Photo: George Burns/Harpo Studios
Ernest "Rip" Patton Jr., Carol Ruth Silver and Congressman Lewis were among the 300 Freedom Riders who spent the summer of 1961 in Parchman Prison.
Watch Rip share his prison experience
Carol Ruth, who was 21 years old at the time, was packed with 22 other girls in a cell built for four before being transferred to Parchman. "There were four bunks, and the rest of us slept on the floor," Carol Ruth says. "We were told, 'They're going to take you to Parchman.' We were really afraid at that point because the reputation of Parchman is that it's a place that a lot of people get sent...and don't come back."
Prison guards tried to punish the Riders by taking away their basic necessities, like toothbrushes and mattresses, but nothing could break their spirits or stop them from singing. "We did a lot of singing, and they didn't like the singing," Rip says. "And every time that they would threaten to do something, we would sing."
In the end, all of the Riders' suffering paid off. On September 22, 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order that all Jim Crow signs must be removed from bus and rail stations in the South. The Freedom Riders had won.