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Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

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“The worst thing they could have done was kill us. Once you accept that—and faith teaches us that there are better things to come after death—then there is nothing to worry about.”

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

As a Southern white woman and the daughter of segregationists, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was an unlikely activist, but she couldn’t reconcile Jesus’ words to “do unto others” with the everyday racism in her world. She decided to do something: “I guess I’ve taken things more or less literally which has sometimes gotten me into trouble.”

After participating in dozens of protests and signing up as a “Freedom Rider” challenging bus segregation, she was arrested and housed for two months on death row. She got out just in time for her first semester at Tougaloo College. She was the first white student at the historically black college, and in response, the state of Mississippi tried, unsuccessfully, to shut down the college. While at Tougaloo, she continued her activism.

Her family rejected her, angry mobs came after her, and the KKK placed her on its “most wanted” list. More than once she thought she might die, but she walked into dangerous situations because it was the right thing to do. “I took my religion seriously. Jesus got nailed to the cross. They might kill me, but I wouldn’t be the first one.”

Although Mulholland has claimed she is “as ordinary as they come,” she knew the value of ordinary people: “It’s not just one person that does it all. It’s not just Dr. King. It’s not just Rosa Parks. It’s not just Harriet Tubman, the way it’s taught in school, but it’s lots of people that you’ve never heard of doing what’s right, going beyond themselves and out of their comfort zone, making hard choices that causes change.”

Next: John Lewis



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