Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison

by Carol Ruth Silver

Oprah Excerpt

The night ride in the paddy wagon between Jackson and Parchman took about four hours, and was more frightening than any previous part of this whole jail experience. Twenty-three girls, about half and half white and Negro together, were crowded into one old army-transport-type truck. It was completely lacking in springs, and bounced us along toward an unknown future. Many of us had black-and-blue marks when we arrived, because the drivers delighted in stopping and starting suddenly, which threw us against each other and the sharp corners of the seats. We sang, of course, to keep our courage up.

The most terrifying part of the ride was the three occasions when the driver suddenly jolted off to the side of the highway – and stopped. We imagined every possible horror from a waiting ambush of the Ku Klux Klan to mined roads. I suppose that they may have been waiting for some kind of escort, of state police or FBI, to catch up with us, or something equally innocent, but until we were moving again, none of us breathed an easy breath.

When we finally arrived, we could not see anything through the tiny grilled windows of the truck but a huge, modern-looking barred gate. We had been singing steadily (to the great annoyance of our driver-guards) and continued while we waited for something to happen. Then, to our unspeakable joy, we suddenly heard an answer – men’s voices, singing “We Shall Overcome” . . .

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