In 1960s Mississippi, it was dangerous for blacks and whites to mix together in public. The state had been wracked by violence as segregationists sought to maintain power in the Jim Crow South. One major challenge to the status quo was the Freedom Riders of 1961, a group of black and white civil rights activists who rode public buses through the South to protest segregated public facilities on route. Their protest ended in Jackson, where they were arrested and imprisoned at Parchman State Prison Farm. From that point on, the name “Freedom Riders” was negatively associated with any outsider, civil rights agitators. This indictment was leveled against MSCW students one night in Batesville.

Laverne Greene, Diane Hardy, and Vicky Winter all discuss the Batesville incident in their oral histories, indicating how harrowing it was for them. Briefly, a group of students associated with the MSCW Young Democrats organization spent a day in Memphis campaigning for Congressman George Grider. The students from MSCW were a mixed race group: the original black students, Greene, Hardy, Turner; at least two white students, including Winter; and a (white) male driver. On their way back to Columbus, they stopped in Batesville for gas. While there, the station attendant disabled their automobile engine, trapping the group long enough for the sheriff and the police to come.

Greene describes what transpired with the police, who threatened to take them to jail:

"They said, 'You’re Freedom Rider[s], why are you coming into Mississippi? Get back wherever you come from.' So, we started telling them that we were not Freedom Riders. You know, we’d just been to Tennessee to campaign for George Grider, and we were on our way back home to Columbus, Mississippi. And that we were all students at The W. And they started saying to us, 'You’re no students at The W, there’s no black people at The W.' You know, so—and we kept pleading that we were, and we were shaking, and afraid because, you know, any minute they could have snatched us from that car, and nobody would have ever known what happened."



Hardy gives insight into the teenagers’ fear as they sat in the car:

"Barbara, knowing how scared and timid I was, she just kept saying, 'Now, Diane, if they try to pull us out of this car, promise me you won't let them take you without a fight.'
I said, 'I promise, Barbara, I promise.'
She said, 'All I have is a nail file.'
And I had long fingernails. I said, 'Well, all I have are my fingernails. But I promise you, I'll fight.'"



After convincing the police that they were students at MSCW,* the station attendant fixed their engine, and the group was allowed to leave.

Greene describes their lingering fear:

"But that was not a pleasant ride, because we kept looking back to see if cars were following us, because if they had really wanted to, they could have killed us all. You know, including the white kids. And nobody would have known anything. But we made it home safe."

*One account says that someone called President Hogarth to confirm this; another account says that they showed their student IDs.


George Grider with Campaign Supporters, 1964.
MSS.80. George Grider Papers, Preservation and Special Collections Department, University of Memphis Libraries.

Laverne Greene-Leech Oral History.
Billups-Garth Archives, Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.

Diane Hardy Thompson Oral History.
Billups-Garth Archives, Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.