Read A Book; Go To Jail

 In Social Commentary

Tougaloo College is a private, co-educational, historically Black, liberal arts institution of higher education founded in 1869, near Jackson, Mississippi. It was established by Christian missionaries to educate freed slaves and their children.

Today, Tougaloo College ranks among the top 50 U.S. institutions whose graduates earn  PhDs  in science and engineering disciplines, and among the top 15 historically Black colleges and universities in the graduation of males and females of color with undergraduate degrees in the physical sciences. Among its graduates are Karen Williams Weaver, the Mayor of Flint, Michigan; Joyce Ladner, the first female president of Howard University; Constance Slaughter-Harvey, the first Black judge in Mississippi, and Walter Turnbull, founder of the Boys Choir of Harlem. 

In 1961, Joseph Jackson, Jr., Albert Lassiter, Alfred Cook, Ethel Sawyer, Geraldine Edwards, Evelyn Pierce, Janice Jackson, James “Sammy” Bradford, and Meredith Anding, Jr. were students at Tougaloo College. On March 27, 1961, they went to the Jackson Public Library, and sat quietly reading their library books.  

“There’s a colored library on Mill Street… You are welcome there,” they were told by a White librarian. The Tougaloo students refused to leave and continued their read-in. They were arrested and charged with breach of the peace for failing to leave when ordered to do so.  After spending a night in jail, they were brought to the courthouse the following day. Protestors outside the courthouse who applauded the arrival of the “Tougaloo Nine” were brutally attacked by police officers with dogs.   

The judge imposed a $100 fine on each of the Tougaloo Nine, gave each a 30-day suspended sentence, and placed them on probation for one year. (The following year, in 1962, the American Library Association issued a rule that membership in the association and its chapters had to be open to everyone regardless of race, religion, or personal belief. Four state chapters promptly withdrew from the American Library Association— Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.) 

On August 17, 2017, 56 years later, the Tougaloo Nine unveiled the Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker commemorating their courageous acts of civil disobedience.  

Author Alice Walker once said, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” Let it be said that the Tougaloo Nine have paid their rent.

Picture Gallery: ‘Tougaloo Nine’ honored with Freedom Trail marker–gallery/104690128/

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