☞ Buy the new improved expanded paperback edition!

Percy Sutton, 1920-2009


On June 8, 1961, a Thursday, Percy Sutton flew from Montgomery, AL, to Jackson, MS. Traveling with him was Mark Lane, then a New York state assemblyman. On arrival at the Jackson airport, the two were arrested “as they entered white rest room facilities,” according to an account in a local paper. Sutton was 40 years old.

From the New York Times obituary:

Percy Sutton, who displayed fierce intelligence and exquisite polish in becoming one of the nation’s most prominent black political and business leaders, died on Saturday, The Associated Press reported. He was 89. . . .

Mr. Sutton stood proudly at the center of his race’s epochal struggle for equal rights. He was arrested as a freedom rider; represented Malcolm X as young lawyer; rescued the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem; and became a millionaire tycoon in the communications business to give public voice to African Americans.

He was also an eminent politician in New York City, rising from the Democratic clubhouses of Harlem to become the longest serving Manhattan borough president and, for more than a decade, the highest black official in the city. In 1977, he was the first seriously regarded black candidate for mayor.

Read the rest.

Charles Sellers: From the Freedom Rides to the Free Speech Movement

Charles Sellers, Freedom Rider

While working on my book, I started to think about the connections between the sit-ins and the Freedom Rides with the Free Speech and anti-war movements that followed – all student-powered, often student-led, almost always at odds with if not in defiance of establishment allies. When I met Freedom Rider Charles Sellers, I met a literal connection between the Freedom Rides and the Free Speech movement.

Sellers was born in Charlotte, NC, in 1923, and arrived in Berkeley in 1958 to teach history at the university. There he was an active member of the local chapter of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, which was very active protesting discrimination in jobs and housing. Three years later he went to Mississippi as a Freedom Rider. Three years after that, he was an early and significant player in the Free Speech movement, which erupted on the Berkeley campus in the fall of 1964.

In this excerpt from our interview, Sellers talks about Berkeley in late ’50s and his roll in the Free Speech movement.

After I got to Berkeley in 1958 I was very active in the chapter of CORE here. It was a very small but devoted band and we raised a lot of hell. We forced all the downtown businesses to hire blacks and sued landlords and [laughs] marched and demonstrated.

There were a few graduate students from the university involved. No faculty that I can recall. Much later, when the demonstrations got to be really big, some faculty came out. The CORE people were just ordinary people from undistinguished backgrounds, in secular terms. But they were just really good people who somehow felt it in their hearts that this was the right thing. We were a devoted little band of brothers and sisters out there for a while, changing the world.

At the time Berkeley, as compared to Chapel Hill, had much the same discrimination in housing and in hiring. But the etiquette of racist supremacy wasn’t enforced so overtly as in the South. There was a black attorney on the city council.

The strange thing about Berkeley when I first came here was it was a Republican town politically. The liberal Democrats were just fighting and getting substantial representation as a minority. The one black [Read more →]

Jackson Academy Honors Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Freedom Rider

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was a Freedom Rider from Arlington, VA. After the rides she stayed in Jackson, attending Tougaloo College and continuing to work in the movement. She participated in the famous May 1963 sit-in at the Woolworths lunch counter in downtown Jackson, which yielded a well-known photograph by Fred Blackwell.

Today she’s being honored in a performance by the band of Jackson Academy, a private school. Below is the story from Clarion-Ledger reporter Billy Watkins.

Jackson Academy’s three-song performance today at the Mississippi Private School Association’s state band competition will pump up the volume of history. The music, arranged by band director Bruce Carter and his 19-year-old son, Corey, is dedicated to Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a white civil rights activist who is the focal point of an iconic 1963 photograph taken by Fred Blackwell of the old Jackson Daily News.

“I’m blown away that (JA) would do this in honor of me,” says the soft-spoken Mulholland, who resides in Arlington, Va. “It sends chills down my spine.”

Mulholland, 19 at the time of the photo, is shown being surrounded by an angry mob of young white people during a sit-in at Woolworth’s soda fountain counter in downtown Jackson. She had been doused with mustard, ketchup, water, Coca-Cola, spray paint and a bounty of insults.

Pictured at the right is Annie Moody, an African-American student at Tougaloo College in Jackson. A streak of mustard and ketchup drips onto her forehead. Pictured at the left is John Salter, then a Tougaloo professor. He is covered in condiments and blood.

He had been hit with brass knuckles.

Mulholland, a Virginia native, was part of the Freedom Riders, who traveled South in 1961 to test the laws of desegregation on interstate buses.

She was charged with breach of peace and jailed for more than two months. A portion of her imprisonment was spent in a death row cell at the State Penitentiary in Parchman.

[

← Before After →