Filner, Robert: Oral History

United States Representative Robert Filner participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. He explains the conditions at the city jails, the county jails, and Parchman State Penitentiary in Mississippi. The oral history was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

Robert Filner from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Congressman Bob Fillner

Date: November 10, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS


Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Congressman from California’s 50th District (San Diego) in fifth term; previously city councilman, school board member, professor of European history at San Diego State University
2:00-4:00 Organized students for Student March on Washington in high school; studied at Cornell University; reaction to seeing burning bus in Anniston, AL on television; only two students from Cornell participated in Freedom Rides, travelled to Nashville for day of training and was on one of the first buses to Jackson, MS
4:00-6:00 Sentencing and jail experience, conditions at Hinds County Jail and Parchman Penitentiary
6:00-8:00 Cell mate went stir crazy and had to be removed from cell; called into city police chief’s office
8:00-10:00 Family response to involvement; relationship between Jewish religion and civil rights movement
10:00-12:00 Relation between Jewish American and African American experience
12:00-14:00 His children also politically aware; John Lewis’ pilgrimage with members of Congress to Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham
14:00-16:00 Impact of pilgrimage on his daughter; key changes in the South
16:00-18:00 Most of his fellow Congressional representative from the South are black; housing segregation
18:00-20:00 Strategies of Freedom Riders
20:00-22:00 Wishes for more visible activity in present day movement
22:00-24:00 Ways to get involved
24:00-26:00 Ways to get involved influenced by personal experience
26:00-28:00 Involvement; his work organizing constituents for change
28:00-30:00 Empowerment; continued racism; must find issues everyone can relate to
30:00-32:00 The man who arrested he and John Lewis also became a Democratic Congressman
32:00-34:00 Freedom Riders were ordinary people doing special things and forced to be leaders
34:00-36:00 Changed the course of American History