Letters to the Lab from a Freedom Rider

I’m taking a side trip from parapsychology today. I watched a documentary on PBS the other night about the Freedom Riders. I learned so much that I hadn’t known before, and I am now even more impressed by what they did. They were just so mind-blowingly courageous.

I bring this up because while I was researching the Lab’s archives at the Special Collections Library at Duke, I came across some letters between Gaither Pratt, one of the scientists at the lab, and his son Joe, who was a freedom rider. Just 19 years old, Joe joined the Freedom Riders and was one of the people arrested in Mississippi and who spent more than a month in Parchman Prison, an experience I now know a lot more about. It was not pretty. I think it’s even more impressive when people like Joe, who was raised in the south, in a segregated state, got on those buses.

Dear Joe, We had begun to despair of hearing directly from you, one letter began.

A desperate father, Gaither had even written the prison and offered to take his son’s place. But on the whole, Gaither doesn’t say much. He’d learned that his letters weren’t getting through, so he had written accordingly. “I hope you appreciate the fact that I’ve been speaking carefully to make certain you get this,” he said at the end of one. In a letter to his other children he wrote how “people like Joe are suffering a lot personally to make the rest of us wake up to the fact that a lot of our citizens are regularly denied the rights of citizenship.”

Anyway, I just wanted to note this. You raised good kids, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt.