Parchman, Mississippi State Penitentiary

Parchman is the Mississippi State Penitentiary. During the Freedom Rides in 1961, Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson for challenging segregation on public buses. Twenty-seven riders rode from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson on May 24, 1961. As soon as they got off the bus, they were immediately arrested. After they were sentenced to jail, more and more Freedom Rides took place, often ending in Jackson where they were arrested. More than 300 Freedom Riders were arrested, and many of them were sent to Parchman. Freedom Riders were kept in poor conditions–given clothes that did not fit, not allowed to exercise or leave their cells, and often served inedible food–and ridiculed by prison officials. When the prisoners refused to stop singing freedom songs, their mattresses were taken away. However, the jail also served another purpose. According to Raymond Arsenault in Freedom Riders, “In effect, the Freedom Riders turned a prison into an unruly but ultimately enlightening laboratory where competing theories of nonviolent struggle could be discussed and tested. In the darkest corners of Parchman, where prison authorities had hoped to break the Riders’ spirit, a remarkable mix of personal and political education became the basis of individual and collective survival” (352).

To explore the University of Mississippi’s Freedom Riders archive of video interviews conducted at the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in 2001, visit their website at

See also: Freedom Rides and Former Site of Trailways Busway Station.

Videos about Parchman:

The videos can also be viewed here.


Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford, MS: Oxford UP, 2006.

“Mississippi State Penitentiary.” Wikipedia. 1 Dec. 2011. <>.

Williams, Juan. “Down Freedom’s Main Line.” Eyes on the Prize: America‚Äôs Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin, 1987.