Seven days in Mississippi

In 1949, a man by the name of Frank Espada refused to move to the back of the bus.

He was on furlough from basic training in the Air Force in Texas, and was passing through Mississippi on his way to see his family in New York. His refusal to heed the racist admonishment led to his arrest. Then he had to appear before a judge.

“Boy, how many days you have on that furlough?” the judge asked.

“Ten days,” said Espada.

The judge calculated how much travel time Espada would need to return to duty, and then sentenced him to one week in jail. Much later, Espada would come to refer to those seven days in jail as some of the best days of his life  because that was when he decided what he would do with the rest of his life. Evidence below.

Frank Espada became a photographer, photojournalist, activist, community organizer, and teacher, and is perhaps best known for his masterful work The Puerto Rican DiasporaHe passed away on February 16, 2014, and left behind a family bereaved at his absence.

March on Washington, August 28, 1963

March on Washington, August 28, 1963

“Freedom Now,” school boycott demonstration, February 3, 1964

“Freedom Now,” school boycott demonstration, February 3, 1964

East New York Action, early 1960s

East New York Action, early 1960s

“Man With Flag,” Solidarity Day Demonstration, Washington, DC, September 19, 1981

“Man With Flag,” Solidarity Day Demonstration, Washington, DC, September 19, 1981

“Jewish Currents,” school boycott demonstration, February 3, 1964

“Jewish Currents,” school boycott demonstration, February 3, 1964

Malcolm X, after speaking at the school boycott demonstration

Malcolm X, after speaking at the school boycott demonstration

 

Espada’s son Jason wrote to me to describe the devastation of losing his father, who became ill and perished in the space of a weekend. Jason and I talked about grief, about the urgency and importance in 2016 of his father’s historic activism and photography, and about the ways in which the tender humanity of loss enlivens our commitment to justice for our fellow human beings.

It is with humility and deep gratitude to the Espada family that I share the photographs above. See more of his work at Frank Espada Photography and the Frank Espada Galleries.