Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

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by Carol Ruth Silver

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Arrested as a Freedom Rider in June of 1961, Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year-old recent college graduate originally from Massachusetts, spent the next forty days in Mississippi jail cells, including the Maximum Security Unit at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm. She chronicled the events and her experiences on hidden scraps of paper which amazingly she was


Arrested as a Freedom Rider in June of 1961, Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year-old recent college graduate originally from Massachusetts, spent the next forty days in Mississippi jail cells, including the Maximum Security Unit at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm. She chronicled the events and her experiences on hidden scraps of paper which amazingly she was able to smuggle out. These raw written scraps she fashioned into a manuscript, which has waited, unread for more than fifty years. Freedom Rider Diary is that account.

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 to test the U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing segregation in interstate bus and terminal facilities. Brutality and arrests inflicted on the Riders called national attention to the disregard for federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation. Police arrested Riders for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, along with other alleged offenses, but they often allowed white mobs to attack the Riders without arrest or intervention.

Though a number of books recount the Freedom Rides as part of the larger civil rights story, this book offers a heretofore unavailable detailed diary from a woman Freedom Rider along with an introduction by historian Raymond Arsenault, author of the definitive history of the Freedom Rides. In a personal essay detailing her life before and after the Freedom Rides, Silver explores what led her to join the movement and explains how, galvanized by her actions and those of her compatriots in 1961, she spent her life and career fighting for civil rights. Framing essays and personal and historical photographs make the diary an ideal book for the general public, scholars, and students of the movement that changed America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Getting to know Carol Ruth Silver and other Freedom Riders has been an unforgettable experience. I am so pleased Carol Ruth Silver is sharing the personal diary she kept during that incredibly eventful and traumatic summer of 1961. It is never too late to hear more personal stories of individual acts of heroism. Her diary provides a first-person immediacy, which makes it such a page-turner. It's also a unique look at the hope and excitement of a young, single woman living in New York, and a window into the mundane yet terrifying unknown of being imprisoned in Mississippi in the 1960s. Her diary shows the bond between her cell mates and what the fiercely focused efforts of average citizens can do: not only did they bring down the ugly signs of Jim Crow segregation, but they also broke down barriers among people of different races and backgrounds to make our country better for all."

—Laurens Grant, producer of Freedom Riders, recipient of a Peabody and three Primetime Emmy Awards

"Carol Ruth Silver's diary is a unique portrait of individual courage—a powerful story of idealism and hope, a reflection of a generation of young Americans who would no longer tolerate injustice and segregation. Her raw memories are a poignant reminder of a dark era of the past and of the need to continue our national ride to freedom, progress, and opportunity in our time."

—Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives (D-California)

"Carol Ruth Silver, thank you for making history as a Freedom Rider. Your courage and the courage of other Freedom Riders helped change American Society; no exclusions and freedom for all citizens."

—John Taylor, 1961 Freedom Rider

"'What does one take for a vacation in jail?' When one's destination is Mississippi's infamous Parchman Prison Farm, this is not an idle query. During the summer of 1961, more than 300 Freedom Riders, including 110 women, were incarcerated in Parchman after testing the Supreme Court's desegregation of interstate travel. Only one of these crusaders for civil equality managed to smuggle a diary out with her: Carol Ruth Silver, a twenty-two-year old Jewish New Yorker willing to put her liberty on the line in the spirit of Tikkun Olam—to heal the world. This vivid primary source allows an uncensored, unromanticized, and humbling view of the lived experience of young civil rights activists as they made the movement one day at a time, and of a foundational moment in what became Silver's lifelong commitment to social justice and the daily pursuit of a more perfect Union."

—Jane Dailey, University of Chicago

Product Details

University Press of Mississippi
Publication date:
Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
6 MB

Meet the Author

Carol Ruth Silver, San Francisco, California, is a retired lawyer, activist, and former elected official. She currently appears as a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition opposing the U.S. policy of drug prohibition and has been working for the past ten years to enhance education, particularly for women and girls, in Afghanistan.

Raymond Arsenault is the author of the definitive history of the Freedom Rides, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.

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Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the daily diary of a female Freedom Rider, young, white, Jewish, from New England. A lot of it is about her relationship with the other female Freedom Riders, many of whom were African-American, and most of whom, both Black and White, were from the South. I wish there were also a book about the male Freedom Riders. But in this book the male Freedom Riders do get a chance to tell their stories when all the Freedom Riders are required to come back to Jackson for arraignment, after they were out on bail. The State of Mississippi thought that they were harassing the Freedom Riders by making them come back, and they were, but this just made the Movement stronger.
MargieS1 More than 1 year ago
Given To Me For An Honest Review This book is about a young northern girl who got involved with the civil rights fight in the 60s.  She was arrested with  others.  While in prison she began writing things on small scraps of paper and was able to sneak them out of the prison when she was released.  Those scraps of paper became her Freedom Rider Diary. I lived that time period and her book gives the information right on.  Although she is very direct with the information she  does not show any emotion thoughout.  Other than that, it is a book that should be shared with young people who love  history.  Because that is a vital part of our history.  I give it 5 stars and highly recommend it to all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think to read this book you have to have an interest in the history of the civil rights movement and the Freedom Ride.  The diary itself is somewhat dry; Ms. Silver sticks mainly to the facts. Not much emotion comes through in the diary.  I found it interesting that she wrote that there was a culture conflict between the Northern Freedom riders and those from the South ; the Freedom Riders from the South, both Black and White, were extremely religious and spiritual. They believed that the power of love to overcome hate. In contrast the Northern Freedom riders were influenced by the ACLU and had a secular orientation. Ms. Silver providers some missing information regarding her background in the afterwards. However, I still wondered what the impact of being in the Freedom Rides had on her. I was also curious how  her fellow law students saw her being in the Freedom Rides. Was she seen as a hero or eccentric? Her style of writing still is very  much WHAT she did but there is not much emotion or introspection. However, I would give five starts to the afterword written by Cherie A Gaines who is a black female lawyer. She writes about how important it was to have white freedom riders and the impact of the civil rights movement on her. She was a woman lawyer in the 1960s at a time there weren't many women lawyers.  The afterward written by Claude Liggins was also very good. He is a black man who took part in the Freedom Rights.  I received an ARC copy of this book in turn for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Her story is inspirational, 1961 heyday of the Civil Rights Movements. Carol Silver role as a Freedom Rider, her tribute and desire to make a difference which she did in the segregated south was a task she took on. Imprisoned in Parchman Prison, writing down what she experienced and the struggles other prisoners went through was duly noted. I did not learn about the Freedom Riders until I read this book which lead me to immediately search for more information about them. The Freedom Riders challenged the status quo and she was part of it. Her fears encourages courage while confronting the struggles of prejudice. The emotional aspect of this book was draining because the buzz of the story was felt all through this book. Great read, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Won this on Goodreads, First Read Giveaway, thank you Darlene Cruz
BLUEFISH99 More than 1 year ago
Harrowing, unforgettable experiences which the writer has allowed us to experience with her being a civil rights activist, we are allowed to bear witness to atrocities used against the freedom Riders. Brutality, violence, disregard of the law, how one woman spent her life fighting for civil rights using both historical and personal photographs contained within the text of the book.