Trailblazing Freedom Fighter’s Home Is a Freedom Ride Through Civil Rights History

Decades ago, a northern Virginia woman left home against her parents' wishes to become a freedom fighter. Now Joan Mulholland is known not only as a trailblazer but as the go-to person when it comes to artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement.

A stroll through Mulholland's Arlington home is a freedom ride through American history.

But Mulholland's collection of Civil Rights treasures also play a big part in her own history. She was a non-violent fighter for equality.

Mulholland proudly showed off her sentencing papers, requiring her to spend two months in prison for riding a freedom bus into Jackson, Miss.

"It was following Gandhi," Mulholland said. "Fill the jails, make it so inconvenient and expensive for them, and keep that publicity ruling that they would decide to obey the Supreme Court ruling."

When talking about her role in the movement to students, Mulholland is often met with skepticism. She says people don't associate her face with the push for Civil Rights.

"No, I think I'm an exception to the rule," she said. "But there were an awful lot of white folks in the south who were glad to see change come, but [they] were afraid for themselves and their families to speak out."

Mulholland wasn't afraid, not of her family nor society. She's pictured in several iconic images of the movement. One photo shows her at a Jackson lunch counter sit-in. She's covered in sugar and sits with her back to a hate-filled crowd.

Asked if it was a humiliating moment or a proud moment, Mulholland answered, "It's a 'survive it' moment."

Mulholland was arrested about a half dozen times. Her time in prison overlapped with the Rev. Reginald Green's. He was also arrested in Jackson on the day before Mulholland.

"Same jail, same time," said Rev. Green. "In fact, Joan stayed a little longer than I did, I think. She stayed to go back to school from jail."

Today, Rev. Green lives just a few miles from Mulholland across the border in D.C. He praises her role as a fellow freedom rider.

"Had it just been a movement where it was just African-Americans trying to do this on their own without that kind of ... involvement, I don't think it would have had the success," Rev. Green said.

On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Mulholland reflected on her own connection to Dr. Martin Luther King -- her fearless efforts to help see his dream, her dream, become reality.

"We're going to die, eventually," Mulholland said. "It may as well be a death that makes a difference."

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