On May 24, 1961, Jean Thompson, at age 19, participated in the Freedom Ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi as civil rights activists tested the Interstate Commerce Commission’s desegregation of bus transit. Jean’s bus was the first to make it safely to its destination in Mississippi. Previously, white groups acted violently to activists and burned Freedom Ride buses. [1] This safe arrival was short-lived. According to the Times-Picayune, city police arrested Jean along with eleven other riders “moments after they alighted from their buses and set foot in a white waiting room at the bus terminal.” [2] 

Jean and the other Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Riders refused to move from the white waiting room after police ordered them to leave. The police then immediately booked the riders on “two counts of refusing to move on when ordered by police and causing a breach of the peace.” [2] The following day, Jean appeared in front of the municipal court led by Judge James L. Spencer. CORE’s attorney advocated for the riders stating that all people have the right to travel. Judge Spencer did not alleviate the penalties and charged Jean and the other riders with the maximum penalty of a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. [2] 

Though documents do not detail when police released Jean Thompson, Jean participated in another Freedom Ride later that year. 

On November 14, 1961, Jean and her sister, Alice, joined CORE in their Freedom Ride from Hattiesburg to Poplarville, Mississippi. In Hattiesburg, Jean and Alice stepped off the bus and went into the bus station cafe. [3] There were no arrests at this stop, though Jean, Alice, and other CORE women members rendered a successful sit-in at the all-white cafe and women’s bathroom. Police escorted the riders back to their bus and they continued on to Poplarville. [4] In Poplarville, police arrested Alice for stepping off the bus and participating in a sit-in. Jean remained on the bus and returned to New Orleans. 

Jean Thompson participated in several other activist demonstrations including the Freedom Highways Project, the 1962 Louisiana Freedom Summer, and the 1962 Mississippi Freedom Summer. Today, she speaks on her time during the civil rights movement and advocates for special needs communities. [5]



Radio Chronicles – The Story of a Freedom Rider: Jean Denton Thompson
In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that racial segregation in restaurants, waiting rooms and bus terminals was unconstitutional.  However, this ruling was not being enforced in parts of the South, so Jim Crow laws that allowed for segregated...
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