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‘Freedom Riders’ to discuss their experiences at annual MLK Lecture

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture at Providence College will have a different approach this year when three of the original “Freedom Riders” — civil rights activists who rode buses through the segregated South — visit campus to engage in a dialogue with students, faculty, and staff.

Paul Breines, Jean Denton-Thompson, and Ellen L. Ziskind (pictured right) will discuss their experiences on Thursday, January 30, at 7 p.m. in the Great Room of the Ruane Center for the Humanities. For those who cannot attend, a live broadcast will be available at

In advance of the event, the film The Freedom Riders will be shown on Tuesday, January 28, at 5:30 p.m. in Slavin Center ’64 Hall. A discussion will follow.

The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who, beginning in 1961, rode buses through southern states to protest ongoing segregation. They brought national attention to the lack of enforcement of civil rights laws and to local violence against people of color.

Elena T. Yee, director of the Student Multicultural Activities Office, said that in past years, a faculty member has presented the MLK Lecture, but the College decided to invite outside guests this year.

Breines, a retired associate professor of history at Boston College, was a 20-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a member of the Student Council on Civil Rights when he joined the Freedom Riders. He traveled from Nashville, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., on a Greyhound bus and was arrested in the bus terminal there.

Denton-Thompson, a retired licensed practical nurse who now lives in Massachusetts, was 19 when she was arrested for participating in a sit-in at the Trailways bus station in Jackson. A native of New Orleans, she had traveled by train to Montgomery, Ala., and then boarded the bus to Jackson.

Ziskind, a psychotherapist in Brookline, Mass., was a college student about to begin her senior year when she heard about the Freedom Riders while volunteering with the Congress for Racial Equality in New York City. She also traveled to Jackson.

The presentation is sponsored by more than 30 campus partners, including the Student Multicultural Activities Office, the Department of History, and the Black Studies Program.


— Vicki-Ann Downing

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