HEIDELBERG HOTEL, July 17, 1961, Jackson, MS

Richard Haley, Hellen O'Neal McCray. Most Freedom Riders integrated public transportation, and public transit waiting rooms and dining areas. In a very different move than most of the other Freedom Ride encounters, Haley and McCray were arrested for picketing the Heidelberg Hotel. Hellen Jean O'Neal McCray, from Claksdale, MS, was born in 1941. I look into her face, and I see resolve. She was called. Twenty when she stepped up for her Freedom Ride in 1961, I don't think she ever really got off the bus. McCray had recently become a participant in the Jackson Nonviolent Movement -- which she'd dropped out of Jackson State University to join, earning her the admiration of her stepfather...and the ire of her mother. Check out what McCray had to say about it in Eric Etheridge's expanded edition of Breach of Peace (Vanderbilt, 2018) Resolved or not, I'm sure McCray's behind was feeling toasty from the combination of fury that her mother was breathing, and the tensions of being a person of color in her time and place. The lives of people in the movement, particularly people of color, and most especially those in the south, were more of a hot mess of fear and tension than anything most of you or I are likely dealing with at the moment. In 1963, McCray joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), where she was involved in canvassing and organizing, and held instrumental roles in community literacy material development and reading instruction until leaving Mississippi in 1964. From 1964 into 1966, McCray worked with civil rights groups, associations, councils, and committees in New York, Louisiana, and Georgia. Her final move in 1966 was to Yellow Springs, OH. There, she worked as a public school educator for 29 years, followed by employment at Wilberforce University, teaching, mobilizing and influencing on campus and beyond right up until the end. McCray passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer. I see her as having been on one continuous Freedom Ride her whole life. The opportunity to have interviewed her would have been grand. To learn her favorite food, ice cream, time of year, and color, check out her interview in The History Makers Archives.

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