Portraits of Courage, Struggle, and Defiance

This is the mug shot of Joan Trumpauer, a 19-year-old Duke University student and SNCC member who was arrested by the Jackson, Mississippi, police with eight other activists as they arrived on a train from New Orleans to participate in Freedom Rides in early June 1961. Joan Trumpauer had already participated in lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. (She is the student having sugar poured on her head in this iconic image.) The photos above and several dozen other powerful images from 1961, mostly by American news photographers, are part of an impressive collection posted by The Atlantic Monthly. See more below. (H/T to A Continuous Lean.) Some of the viewers’ comments on the photos are instructive; others, particularly about civil rights, are disturbing, depressing.

The caption to Miss (not yet Ms.) Trumpauer’s mug shot explains:

A Jackson Police Department file booking photograph of Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, taken on June 8, 1961. 19-year-old Duke University student and part-time secretary in the Washington office of Senator Clair Engle of California, Trumpauer arrived in Jackson, Mississippi to take part in the June 4, 1961 Mississippi Freedom Ride. She and eight others were promptly arrested and refused bail. Trumpauer served three months in jail, later enrolling in traditionally black Tougaloo college, which had just started accepting white students. 

In a column worth reading in full, “Toward a Manifested Courage,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, quotes a prison superintendent’s reply to Trumpauer’s mother (a native of Georgia whom Joan later described as “an unrepentant segregationist”):

Your daughter is receiving plenty of food, has been provided with a toothbrush, tooth paste, and whatever else she actually needs. 

I notice that you state that as a mother of a minor that you want to be notified in the case of any emergency. What I can not understand is why as a mother you permitted a minor white girl to gang up with a bunch of negro bucks and white hoodlums to ramble over this country with the express purpose of violating the laws of certain states and attempting to incite acts of violence.

The Trumpauer photograph appears among many other portraits in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge. Click here to see more images. And see the gripping American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

We detail the Joan Trumpauer experience at some length here out of admiration of her (awe-) inspiring personal courage (“Now if whites were going to riot when black students were going to white schools, what were they going to do if a white student went to a black school?”) and as a prelude to, an early honoring of, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 16).

Now, some selections from the Atlantic photo feature “50 Years Ago: The World in 1961.”


George Lincoln Rockwell, center, self-styled leader of the American Nazi Party, and his “hate bus” with several young men wearing swastika arm bands, stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 23, 1961, en route to Mobile, Alabama. (AP Photo)

A policeman orders his dog to attack a man who was too slow in obeying his order to move away from in front of police court, shortly before nine African-American college students went on trial for sitting-in at a (white) public city library, on March 29, 1961, in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Jackson Clarion-Ledger)


 A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames after a firebomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Alabama, in May of 1961. (AP Photo)