Freedom Riders Fill Up the City Jail’s “Bull Pen,” We Begin a Hunger Strike

The bull pen continued to fill, and after about a week, was filled to capacity. We were still hoping that Bobby Kennedy would issue an injunction enforcing the Federal law, and ordering local police not to interfere with interstate transportation. We decided that more moral pressure could be brought if we embarked on a hunger strike in jail. We stopped eating any food, and drank only water. After five days of hunger strike, guards came in and told us to get our things together, that we were being moved. It turned out that we had been successful at filling both the city and county jail to capacity, that they were getting bad press about the hunger strike, and so they elected to move us to the Mississippi Delta’s infamous “Parchman Farm,” the State Penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi. This prison farm is widely referred to in the Blues as “the County Farm,” and is the subject of the well-known folk song “Midnight Special.” We were loaded onto a gray bus with metal seats and bars on the windows and were bussed the 140 miles into the delta to Parchman. I remember entering through several high razor wire gates with watch towers. Guards stood by with rifles, and prisoners labored in the thousand acres of fields. I was actually looking forward to see what it would be like to “chop cotton” the fields, clothed in black and white prison garb, with the rifle-bearing guards on horseback overseeing us. But that was not what was waiting for us.

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