The Story Of How The First White Member Of Delta Sigma Theta Was A Segregationist’s Worst NightmareBreaking News
tags: civil rights, African American history, Freedom Riders
Did you know that the first white member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., was a freedom rider who was hunted by the KKK for working to desegregate the south named Joan Trumpauer Mulholland?
Mulholland was born in 1941 and raised in Arlington, Virginia. Her great-grandparents were slave owners in Georgia who after the United States Civil War became sharecroppers and she grew up in a household that supported segregation.
Joan attended Duke for undergrad and in the Spring of 1960 participated in her first of many sit-ins. The idea of protecting the white women from blacks was something that southern racism and segregation were supposed to fighting for so the idea of a white woman from the south defending the rights of blacks confused many people. Joan’s activism was not understood by many and she was branded as mentally ill, and was taken in for a mental evaluation after her first arrest.
Mulholland was disowned by her family for protesting and dropped out of school at Duke after being pressured by the dean of women to stop her civil rights activism.
In 1961, Mulholland, along with Stokely Carmichael (the activist and later SNCC chairman), Hank Thomas, and others were arrested as Freedom Riders and brought to the most dreaded prison in Mississippi: Parchman Penitentiary, a jail in the Delta, which is not far from where Emmett Till had been murdered. Many of the freedom riders remained behind bars for about a month but Mulholland had no plans and no place to go until school opened in the fall. She served her two-month sentence and additional time to work off the $200 fine she owed.
After being released from jail, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton E. Holmes became the first African American students to enroll at the University of Georgia. Mulholland thought, “Now if whites were going to riot when black students were going to white schools, what were they going to do if a white student went to a black school?” She decided to be the first white student to enroll in Tougaloo College in Jackson, where she met Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ed King, and Anne Moody. Two years later, she became the first white member to pledge Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority Inc.
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