Joan Trampauer Mulholland Article

Ericka Dixon, Staff Writer

Seventy-three-year-old civil rights activist and Freedom Rider, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland made an impact in the nation in the 1960s. Growing up in Arlington, Va., during the time of segregation, Mulholland knew at a young age, after witnessing the divide that existed between whites and blacks, that something needed to be done.


Through the church and her faith, Mulholland became involved in the movement.


“My religious convictions and the Bible passage do to others as you would have them do to you gave me strength through the movement. It was my spiritual mission to bring about change,” Mulholland said.


On campus for her keynote address and screening of “An Ordinary Hero,” a documentary about her life and her legacy, Mulholland addressed students and faculty,  Jan. 29  in Knott Auditorium, on her involvement in the civil rights stuggle.


Becoming the change she wanted to see,19-year-old Mulholland joined the movement as  an activist for social justice and was part of the Nonviolent Action Group.


In 1961, Mulholland journeyed with the Freedom Riders by train from New Orleans, La., to Jackson, Miss., with members of the Congress of Racial Equality.


Along her journey, Mulholland joined in numerous protests and sit-ins to stop segregation. The one she is most known for is the sit-in at Woolworth’s in Jackson, Miss., in 1963 where she along with others sat the lunch counters for hours to protest segregation. For hours the students along with Mulholland were harassed, called names, and even had things thrown at them. Along with this sit-in, she had taken part in the sit-in at Glen Echo Amusement Park in Glen Echo, Md., in 1960.


She was arrested for her involvement with the sit-ins, refused to pay bail and was in turn transferred to Parchman State Prison in Mississippi for two months.


Here was a young white southern woman in the heart of the movement who was not only helping black people, but also set an example for the people who were too afraid to take that first step and stop segregation. She was considered the segregationists’ worst nightmare and a liability, because the white southern men believed they had a duty to protect her.


All while taking an active role in the civil rights movement, Mulholland was enrolled in school. She began her higher education at Duke University; however, she dropped out to become a devoted activist and attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss.


Her transition from Duke to Tougaloo left many people confused as to why a white southern woman would want to attend an all-black college.


“Going to Tougaloo was the best decision I ever made. I got to talk to public figures and be involved. Being a minority made me recognize the cultural differences between whites and blacks. I got a good education and experience. Tougaloo was the only place you could feel free in Mississippi,” said Mulholland.


Here you had this young white southern woman in the heart of the movement who was not afraid to stand up for what she believed was right.


She was considered the segregationists worst nightmare because she was mainly a liability because the southern white men had a duty to protect her.


Mulholland risked her life numerous times in the four years she spent in the movement. From run-ins with the KKK on several occasions to angry mobs, she was lucky to make it out alive. She knew that having an active role in the movement would make it better for future generations.


Mulholland speech to Mount students had an impact on the way many students think about their world today and how, not even that long ago, times were different.


“I thought the documentary was really interesting; I learned a lot,” TJ Munns, a junior, said. “I think the fact that she was a white woman definitely had an impact on people. She taught me that if you believe in something to not be scared. She put her life on the line which means a lot. She had a focus which was to go out there and make a point and she didn’t care if she would lose her life, which she thought she would, and she was able to live through it and tell the tale which is exceptional and I admire her for that.”


 Jalai Gilbert, a junior, called Mulholland inspirational.


“She opened my eyes to the many injustices that existed in the world during that era,” Gilbert said. “She is a woman of good faith and good morals. I applaud everything she has done in order for future generations to be integrated.  I personally believe that she is a hero.”

Mulholland does not think of herself as a hero: “I am just a southerner, a mom, a teacher, a friend and someone who stood up for what was right.”


Today, Mulholland lives in Virginia and works as a teaching assistant. She doesn’t really talk about the things she did and how she made a difference. However, she still remembers the impact she made.


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