Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Spending an evening with “An Ordinary Hero”

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Last November, I was lucky enough to be invited to hear Joan Trumpauer Mulholland speak while attending the National Conference of Social Studies Conference in New Orleans.  As part of the evening we received a copy of the documentary covering her Civil Rights activity, “An Ordinary Hero.”  Prior to this meeting I did not know much about Mrs. Mulholland, even during dinner she was introduced as one of the early Freedom Riders. However, it was once I got home and viewed the documentary, that I realized Mrs. Mulholland has always been part of my teaching the Civil Rights Movement.  An iconic lunch counter photo that I use every year in class—Mrs. Mullholland in the center of the photo.

As sponsor of the National History Honors Society, I encouraged students to view the documentary.  Together with the African-American History Club, we organized a community night for students and parents to watch “An Ordinary Hero” and afterwards have a speaker who had been part of the movement answer questions.    

“An Ordinary Hero” is the true story of Mrs. Mulholland’s courage to help change the world. As she entered college she was a Civil Rights Activist and would go on to participate in over three dozen sit-ins and protests.  At one point she was even among those arrested along with other Freedom Riders and transported to Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Penitentiary.  Watching the documentary, a lot of detail is given to her taking a seat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and the violence that followed.  It is this lasting image from that day that showcased her strength in the movement.  Later she would go on to help plan and organize the 1963 March on Washington.

Joan (in the middle) at the Woolworth's Lunch Counter.
The documentary covers how Mrs. Mulholland’s Civil Rights activities would lead to her being disowned by her family, attacked, shot at, cursed at, and hunted down by the local Ku Klux Klan for execution. The last portion of the documentary covers that escape from the Klan, but that in a short three weeks three other would be killed.  At the dinner with Mrs. Mulholland, she was asked did she ever reconcile with her family.  Her response was a simple reply, grandchildren help bridge any gap.

Cleveland Stroud
After viewing the documentary, we heard from Mr. Cleveland Stroud.  Mr. Stroud is a Retired Rockdale County educator, an acclaimed coach, tax preparer, public servant as a Conyers City Councilman, and an NFL official. As a young man, he participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the Atlanta area and shared his unique history and insight.  Mr. Stroud marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Hosea Williams.  He shared with the attendees the advice he had received from Dr. Benjamin Mays—“Be the best that ever lived at whatever you do.”  Mr. Stroud also shared fond memories of Hosea Williams, and the fact that Williams had been his chemistry teacher.  He stressed the importance of education and that the youth of today should not become what the civil rights activists had fought. 

For more information about Cleveland Stroud.