An icon of the Civil Rights Movement will speak as part of Ferris State University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration Monday, Jan. 17, as Joan Trumpauer Mulholland presents “Living Legends: Advocacy in Action” at 5 p.m., in Rooms 202 A/B of the University Center.
When she participated in her first peaceful protest as a student at Duke University in 1960, she got a referral for mental counseling following her arrest at a sit-in.
“My advocacy started with sit-ins to simply draw attention to the notion of equal treatment,” Mulholland said. “The next year, the Freedom Rides were a method deployed to test the ‘Boynton v. Virginia’ Supreme Court decision, which intended to bring about the integration of interstate travel service stations. We believed that the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, related to nonviolent protest, meant that others had to step up and take the effort forward.”
She took up sit-ins again to support the “Freedom Riders” journey by a group of activists in the summer of 1961. That protest drew international attention as their interstate buses were set afire and passengers attacked as they passed through Alabama from Washington D.C. to New Orleans.
“We sought to make clear that segregation was not legal, even if it meant filling jails as part of our protest,” Mulholland said. “We would later return to these communities and support change, through voter registration campaigns and other efforts, to assure the rights of all citizens who lived and worked there.”
Mulholland continued her education at Tougaloo College outside Jackson, Mississippi, a historically black institution. She endured more hatred and violence during a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson. While at Tougaloo, she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the nation’s largest Greek-lettered African-American organization.
Her associates in continuing demonstrations and protests included Stokely Carmichael, of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Medgar Evers, John Lewis and Martin Luther King. Mulholland took part in the March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery March, and in 1966, the Meredith March against Fear, which concluded in Jackson.
“President Lyndon Johnson made a speech in 1965, saying he would pursue a Voting Rights Act. He looked directly into the television camera to say ‘We shall overcome,’” Mulholland said. “That statement alluded to the traditional spiritual and was a real death knell to the politics that fought against civil rights freedoms.”
That song and ‘Amazing Grace’ are a couple of pivotal ways that we were able to spread the message that this injustice could not stand, that we must change our ways as a society.”
Mulholland is a recipient of the 2020 Simeon Booker Award for Courage. She and other female Freedom Riders were recognized by President Barack Obama in 2014, and she received the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award a year later.
There will be a live Zoom presentation of Mulholland’s address, which will have an audience limited to 40 persons in the UC Ballroom in the interest of participant health. RSVPs for this address are available online, to that point of capacity.
Those with a disability who may require assistance to attend Ms. Mulholland’s presentation can contact the OMSS office by email or call (231) 591-2617 at least 72 hours before the event.