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Leland High School

370 North Main Street

Leland, Illinois 60531

All School – Students Only


I look forward to participating April 18, 2019, in an interactive-All Student Civil Rights / Civic Engagement Discussion with students at the Leland, Illinois High School. Students and faculty will bring their questions and concerns to the discussion. This will be an active and invigorating experience for students and faculty alike. Please wish the best for all of us. Peace.



Join me on May 2, 2019, at 1:00 PM for a civil rights presentation, an Interactive Conversation, and a book signing of Autobiography Of A Freedom Rider: My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rightsby Thomas Armstrong and Natalie Bell, (HCI). The book focuses on the early life of a native of Mississippi, his involvement in the 1960s Mississippi voters’ registration process, as well as the development of his courage to become one of the first residents of the state of Mississippi to join the Freedom Rides in 1961.

The memoir is backed by historical research, including interviews with primary sources, my personal notes, numerous secondary sources, newspaper accounts, and court cases, records of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, state Census, and related records.

Join the conversation about ordinary people, both black and white in the South, who made CHANGE happen, “not unlike people in the struggle for Justice today”. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Book Signing will follow the presentation.



Messenger Public Library

Please join us on August 27, 2019, at 7:00 PM, at the Messenger Public Library, North Aurora, Illinois as Mr. Armstrong’s share his journey to bring change to this country and the world. Mr. Armstrong will discuss Autobiography Of A Freedom Rider and his civil rights experiences. A book signing will follow the presentation.


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Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee (Transition)

Today, October 1, 2016 Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee a dear friend, a freedom rider, a foot soldier for peace and justice, and my hero, was laid to rest. Mary was married to Tougaloo College classmate Gene Lee.

I will miss Mary deeply because she stood with me as we made that high-level commitment to nonviolent direct action. Mary was a classmate at Tougaloo College. She was the mother of three beautiful children, Geno, Daryl, and Angel.

Please allow me to express to you just one of Mary’s commitment to humankind: It was in June, 1961 when a real revolution was taking place within the confines of Tougaloo College, truly an oases within a sea of hate. It was in a dormitory room on the campus of this great Mississippi institution where a group of students and a representative of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, plotted the Freedom Ride participation of the first Tougaloo College Students.

It was known that all of the Freedom Riders had come from states other than Mississippi. Indeed, the Mississippi power structure could not let us forget this fact. A speech was given by then governor Ross Barnett stating, “our negras are satisfied with the way things are in Mississippi”. Politicians and the Mississippi mainstream news media alike were expounding the idea that all black and white Mississippi maintained a dislike for the freedom riders. And that the Freedom Riders were a group of outside agitators.

Mary’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that the Jackson Advocate, the largest and most read black-owned Jackson newspaper lent credence to Governor Barnett’s black satisfaction idea. Tougaloo College students, especially those in that dormitory room knew that was not a true picture and we intended to prove it. We decided to become the “Mississippi Freedom Riders”. Mary wanted to make a difference. She wanted to fight injustice wherever she found it.

We both believed, that based on Mississippi’s prison reputation the freedom riders who were already in Jackson, Mississippi jails were going to be subjected to abuse and death if we, as Mississippi residents, did not get into the jails with them.

SNCC wanted four riders to participate on June 21, 1961 however one of our intended riders abruptly changed his mind about participating. Without a moment of hesitation Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee stood and announced “I’ll go”. This small group of Mississippians, Mary and I, Elnora and Joseph, (sister and brother from nearby Raymond, Mississippi) was about to blow the lid off that boiling pot.

One June 21, 1961 Mary and I awaken early. They were first in line for breakfast that morning. The more than three score of students in line with them had no idea that the two students sitting along at a table in the corner was about to make history.

Later that morning, through an arraignment by SNCC the Mother of the Jackson Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. A. M. E. Logan arrived on campus driving her already famous station wagon. One by one Elnora, Mary, Joseph, and I placed our luggage in the rear seat of the automobile and took our place inside to await the forever time-consuming ride into an unknown venture. We hardly spoke one word. Many words of comfort were provided by Mrs. Logan. Due to high anxiety those words of comfort were barely audible.

As we left the campus Mary turned to get a look, (final?) at that grand symbol of the college, the Gate.

Mrs. Logan drove us to within one block of the Trailways Bus Station in Jackson, Mississippi. We retrieved our luggage and waved goodbye to our hero. The block away from the station contained only two or three policemen. There were many more present as we reached the front door of the station. As we enter Mary and I quickly note that there were men and policemen who had lined the wall of the station, all smiling. Why were they smiling? We were arrested of course and not allowed to board the bus to New Orleans, LA.

That was Mary Magdalene Harrison Lee’s introduction to that great protest known as the freedom riders. Rest in peace Mary. The world is truly a better place because of you.

Thomas Armstrong




AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FREEDOM RIDER - My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights by - Thomas Armstrong & Natalie Bell