Hezekia Watkins-Freedom Rider

Hezekiah Watkins

In the spring of 1961, word was going around that the Freedom Riders would be coming to Jackson.  Hezekiah Watkins was a 13 year old boy at Rowan Junior High.  Before school was out that year, the principal made an announcement and told the students to stay away from the situation.  At church, the pastor also told the young people not to get involved with the Freedom Riders.  And, then when he got home, his mother told him the same thing because it could bring hardship on his family.  But, Hezekiah was curious about the Freedom Riders.  He had been watching what was going on with them in Alabama on the national news.  He was interested to see how they looked, how they talked and how they acted – something inside of him was stirring and he needed to know. 


He and his friend were at the Masonic Temple on Lynch Street where people were asking others to join the movement.  Then they heard the Freedom Riders had arrived at the Greyhound Bus Station on Lamar Street so they ran down there to see what was going on.  By the time they arrived, all 328 Freedom Riders had been arrested.  Now, at this time, they should have gone home, but they decided to play around on the sidewalks around the bus station.  Next thing he knew when they walked by the bus station door, his friend pushed him in and he was detained by the police.  On July 7, 1961, he was arrested, searched and put in the back of a paddy wagon on his way to Parchman.  When he got to Parchman, they put him on death row in the cell with two murderers.   While he was there he became “educated in jail” with the cellmates stealing his food and leaving him crumbs, being beaten by them, and more.  After five days Governor Ross Barnett had him released and sent to Jackson Police Department.  When he arrived they called him mom who had no idea where he was and had been looking for him for five days.  His mom, the pastor, some deacons and sisters all arrived at the police station.  When he and his mom saw each other they hugged so hard and long they fell on the ground.  Upon arrival at home, him mom came in with a switch, the kind you braid three together to be sure they didn’t break, and whipped him.  He swore at that time he would never disobey his mom again.  Later, after talking with his mom he did join the Freedom Movement and was again arrested 109 times.  Mr. Watkins told the audience to find out the rest of the story, we would need to read his book.