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Freedom Riders: Experiences Then and Now

Thursday, February 18, 2021, 1:00 PM until 2:15 PM

Additional Info:
Linda Spink
Managing program
Social and Cultural
Registration is required
Payment In Full In Advance Only
No Fee
No Fee

Jean Denton-Thompson arrest
Freedom Riders: Experiences and Reflections on Then and Now, a conversation with Jean Denton-Thompson, one of the Freedom Riders arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 24, 1961. In this conversation, Jean will share her personal experiences as a Freedom Rider on the Trailways bus from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. She’ll offer reflections on the parallels between their efforts then and the current movement for racial justice and equality.

These self-proclaimed “Freedom Riders” challenged the mores of a racially segregated society by performing a disarmingly simple act. Traveling together in small interracial groups, they sat where they pleased on buses and trains and demanded unrestricted access to terminal restaurants and waiting rooms, even in areas of the Deep South where such behavior was forbidden by law and custom….

Attracting a diverse assortment of volunteers—black and white, young and old, male and female, religious and secular, Northern and Southern—the Freedom Rider movement transcended the traditional legalistic approach to civil rights, taking the struggle out of the courtroom and into the streets and jails of the Jim Crow South….

The Riders challenged federal officials to enforce the law and uphold the constitutional right to travel without being subjected to degrading and humiliating racial restrictions. Most amazingly, they did so knowing that their actions would almost certainly provoke a savage and violent response from militant white supremacists. – Excerpts from Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Pivotal Moments in American History) (pp. 2-3). Oxford University Press.

Jean Denton-Thompson current

Jean Denton-Thompson was born January 13, 1942, in Lake Providence, Louisiana and grew up there and in New Orleans. She was active in the New Orleans Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), and was one of the Freedom Riders arrested at age 19 in Jackson, Mississippi, after making the historic trip on the Trailways bus from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi.


After being released from jail in Jackson, Mississippi, Jean returned to New Orleans to train Freedom Riders about to go into Jackson. In 1962, she was on a CORE project called Freedom Highway Project, located in North Carolina. She was also involved with civil rights work elsewhere in the South, including Canton, Mississippi, after Medgar Evers was murdered.


Jean moved to New York City in the mid-'60s, where she worked with local CORE chapters. In the late '60s, she was involved in civil rights, anti-war and feminist efforts in Berkeley and San Francisco.


As the Vietnam war was escalating, Jean decided to visit friends and live in New England. She moved to Pelham in 1976, then lived in Sunderland before settling in Amherst, where she lives today.