Negro & White Women, United, Travel to Petition Governor Talmadge to Free Mrs. Rosa Lee Ingram, Victim of Oppression
Originally published in the February, 1954 issue of Jewish Life
IT WAS A COLD DECEMBER MORNING when 23 of us, white and Negro women, marched onto the train at New York’s Penn Station with our banner, “Free Mrs. Rosa Ingram.” We were on our way to Atlanta, Georgia, to meet delegations from other states and together to see Governor Herman Talmadge to petition him to pardon Mrs. Ingram and her two sons, who are serving life terms in a Georgia jail. The national delegation had been organized by the Women’s Committee for Equal Justice, headed by Mrs. Mary Church Terrell.
In the approaching Christmas season, when “Good will towards men” was on everyone’s lips, we wanted to put good will towards Mrs. Ingram, mother of 12 living children, on the order of the day. Didn’t a Negro mother have the right to defend herself against the aggressions of a white man? And hadn’t two sons the right to defend their mother from violation? The three had already spent six years in prison for this “crime” of defense against the offending white man who was killed in the scuffle.
The thought that kept racing through my head was that as a Jewish woman I had a deep kinship with Mrs. Ingram, that I had a responsibility to help get her free.
My organization, the Emma Lazarus Federation of Women’s Clubs, was sending two delegates, a woman from Florida and myself; it hadn’t forgotten the Hitlerite crimes committed against Jewish women in that period of terror. We know that hatred against one group eventually means the effort to strangle others. The enemy of the Jew and the Negro is the same, though the Negro is far more intensely the object of that enmity. Jewish women have to take a stand to defend the democratic rights of the Negro people and especially of Negro women. It is time to end the 300-year old story of the many Mrs. Ingrams.
The 21-hour train trip to Atlanta was an unforgettable experience. This time spent with our Negro friends brought us closer to them, to their anger. We all joined in the singing of Christmas carols and spirituals. Never had the singing of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” meant so much to me. Amidst smiles mingled with defiance the group burst into “Oh, Freedom!”
On arrival at Atlanta, we had to separate to travel to a Negro restaurant in town, where we came together again. On our way we talked with the Negro bus driver. He left us with the remark. “Beautiful, beautiful Atlanta. Only trouble is that it’s in Georgia.”
Then we went to the Georgia Captiol steps for our prayer meeting. The 75 delegates from New York, California, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania were joined on the steps by a number of local Negro women on their lunch hour. A Negro woman at my side remarked to me about the greatness of this event that was taking place in the heart of the South — black and white women arm in arm. The prayer meeting ended with the spiritual “Let My People Go.”
THEN WE WENT TO THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE. This is how the local Negro paper, Atlanta Daily World, described what happened:
Following the prayers the petitioners moved… to the governor’s office where each was obliged to sign his or her name and address on a register before moving into the actual waiting room…. Upon entering the door of the waiting room… pictures were made by a motion picture camera… Governor Talmadge made his appearance… after the last of the petitioners, newsmen, etc., had been duly registered, ‘announced’ and photographed.
We all understood the meaning of this slow-motion procedure that was intended to frighten us.
Mrs. Mary Church Terrell, 90-year-old colored women leader who headed the delegation, sat in a chair while we were all packed in the room behind her. She spoke to the governor, pleading with him to use his high office to free Mrs. Ingram. Mrs. Halois Robinson, leader of the New York delegation, spoke. But all to no avail. Governor Talmadge told us that the matter was wholly in the hands of the Pardons and Parole Board, whom we could consult.
So we went to the Parole Board, which listened to one speaker after another. There were two white women from Atlanta: Mrs. Shivery, a retired school teacher who spoke in the name of 14,000 Negro Episcopalians; Mrs. Mayme Reece, president of the Georgia Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs; Mrs. Geneva Rushin, Mrs. Ingram’s daughter; Karen Morley, actress; and others. The Parole Board’s response was that “parole cannot be considered before November 1955,” when the seven-year period was over. Mrs. Terrell’s words to the board stand out in my mind. The integrity of our country, she said, was being questioned abroad. “Four-fifths of the world are colored. They are watching this case.”
We felt that these events were a real accomplishment. This was the first time that Governor Talmadge had met with such a delegation. Never before, too, had such a delegation been so broadly representative.
The breadth of representation was even greater at the conference which followed at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. Attending were delegates from trade unions, the Elks, the Atlanta Federation of Colored Women, a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, prominent professionals, writers, a Southern newspaper publisher and others. The conference also showed a considerable local Atlanta participation. In contrast to the experience of other delegations, this one was enthusiastically welcomed by the Negro people and some white Southerners. Over 400 homes in Atlanta had registered at the YMCA to provide housing, and cars with chauffeurs were supplied by local Negro morticians. The day ended with a dinner given to the delegates by the Negro community: Elk’s lodges, business people, ministers, professionals, and the Atlanta Daily World.
At the end of this full day, we were back on the train speeding homewards. We were glad that we had passed beyond the talking stage about Mrs. Ingram’s case and had gone right into the heart of the South in unity with Negro women to do our part in getting freedom for Mrs. Ingram. Now we must fulfill the plans made to carry on the fight.
This essay was originally published in our February, 1954 issue and is presented as it appeared at the time. It is featured in our <a href=”https://jewishcurrents.org/historical-archive”>Sid Resnick Historical Archive</a>, which dates back to the founding of the magazine (as <em>Jewish Life</em>) in 1946. At the time of publication, <strong>Jennie Truchman</strong> was the New York representative of the Emma Lazarus Clubs to the Atlanta delegation to petition Governor Talmadge for the freedom of Mrs. Ingram.