Eyes on the Prize
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Letter from a Freedom Rider's Father, 1961

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Berkeley student John Dolan joined CORE in 1960 and, when the call went out for more Freedom Riders in late spring of the following year, he decided to head to the South. Reactions from those close to him were mixed; as he put it, "My father disinherited me. My mother was worried about my safety. My friends in college supported me. My older friends from high school were concerned I might become a communist."

Dolan was arrested and jailed in Mississippi and Louisiana, and was beaten by the New Orleans police. Still, Dolan never regretted his decision, which gained him respect after the fact. Even his father put him back in his will. More recently, he has spoken about his experiences to students.

He saved this letter from his father, in which the father expresses disappointment at his son's decision.


It is now 1:30 a.m., but I have been unable to sleep so will kill the time by writing you.

Upon my return home this evening I found your note, together with your drums and other items. I will put your things in the front room and take good care of them for you in the hope that someday your sanity will return.

Your group has received excellent publicity in all bay area newspapers, so any attempt to keep this episode quiet is utterly impossible. The men in the band were all studiously polite to me today, but I learned that nearly all of them had read the account in one paper or another.

It seems incredible that a man with a brilliant mind and all the opportunities that you have had should choose to pursue such a ridiculous course. One of the men in the band who is a student at Cal told Bob Hanson that you had the reputation of being "a crazy mixed-up kid." I wonder if psychiatric help would be of any value, and I write this in all seriousness. I wish you would give the matter serious though.

If I had any religious convictions I could pray, but without faith of any kind in the supernatural I can only hope, and at present it doesn't seem that hope is of any great value.

In the years ahead your actions will prove a severe handicap in many fields, particularly in any government positions and also in teaching if you decide to make that your career.

In the past three years I have tried every system that I could think of. Arguments, threats, cajolery, humor and bribery with no effect whatsoever. Presumably as a parent I have been a miserable failure.

When you first advised me of your decision, I characteristically blew my top, and was quite bitter. This feeling is now modified into one of deep disappointment and an aching void.

I should type this, but I just do not have the ambition. Hope you will be able to decipher the major portion of it.

Sorry I can't wish you "Bon Voyage," but with all my failings, no one has ever called me a hypocrite.

Your Father

Source: John Dolan, August 2006. Also online at: http://www.freedomridersfoundation.com/photos.articles.and.artifacts.html

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