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Jailed civil-rights activists photos offer a glimpse into history

More than 300 civil-rights activists were arrested in Jackson, Miss., in 1961 for defying segregation. Their mug shots, including Syracuse resident Rev. LeRoy Wright, were on display at the ArtRage gallery.

The Rev. LeRoy Glenn Wright was too determined to fight racism in Mississippi to be afraid of it when he boarded a bus in 1961 at age 19 to challenge racist Jim Crow laws in the state. 

“I was young. At 19 you’re young and foolish,” said Wright who has lived in Syracuse for 47 years. “You think you’re invincible. I don’t think I had any fear at that time.”

Wright, 68, was among more than 300 Freedom Riders arrested and convicted on a breach of peace charge in Jackson, Miss. for defying segregation.

Their mug shots were part of the Breach of Peace exhibit at the ArtRage gallery in Syracuse.

Mississippi native Eric Etheridge complied jail mug shots of the civil-rights activist and photographed current pictures of the Freedom Riders in the book Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders.

Activists in the exhibit included Wright, Congressman John Lewis, former Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee Chairman Stokely Carmichael and civil rights lawyer Percy Sutton who died in December.

Several hundred jail mug shots of the arrested civil-rights workers lined the wall at the ArtRage gallery. Current portraits of the activists were also displayed.

Rose Viviano, director of the ArtRage gallery, said she wanted to have the exhibit at the gallery because it includes striking photos of courageous young people who helped change the country.

"This is not some kind of history that should be hidden away somewhere or thought about as way in the past,” Viviano said.

“These people are still alive. They’re still doing work. They still have lessons to teach us.” 

Chase Stoffle, 19, attended the exhibit. He also met civil-rights era activists in 2007 when he visited Mississippi with the Civil Rights Connection, a week-long history trip former State Sen. Nancy Larraine Hoffmann organizes.

“Things were bad. They weren’t anything like I thought it was,” said Stoffle, a college sophomore. “The situation beforehand was horrid.”

Wright hopes civil-rights education efforts such as the exhibit continue because the history of that era is significant and should not be forgotten, he said.

“People don’t really know what happened. This is a bridge from the past to the present and the future,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to be aware of what went on.”

The Breach of Peace exhibit was on display at ArtRage, 505 Hawley Ave. in Syracuse. Call 315-218-5711 or visit for details.

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