In Memoriam: Salynn McCollum

Salynn McCollum


Born in 1940 in Oklahoma. While a college student in Nashville, McCollum attended training sessions led by Reverend James Lawson on non-violent protesting and also nightly meetings about desegregating downtown Nashville.  Salynn was the only white female Freedom Rider during the leg from Nashville, Tennessee to Birmingham, Alabama on May 17, 1961. After their arrest in Birmingham, McCollum was separated from the other female Freedom Riders due to her race and held with the white women prisoners. When the white prisoners discovered she was a Freedom Rider, they beat her up and stole her candy and
cigarettes. She stayed in jail about three or four days and was eventually released to her father’s custody.

Salynn transferred to Southern Illinois University, in Cairo, Ill,. While at SIU, she helped organize lunch counter demonstrations with a few local students and led a non-violence workshop using what she had learned from Lawson and her Nashville sit in experience. At one of these sit-ins with ten other protesters, she was assaulted with a knife and received a four-five inch cut on the back of her thigh. She was refused hospital care and ended up being driven to East St. Louis to receive care. This event garnered much attention in local and national newspapers. Soon John Lewis joined her in Cairo, Illinois and Cairo became an official SNCC project.

In the beginning of 1962, McCollum began working full-time for SNCC in Atlanta. Her duties included handling voter registration in Georgia, fundraising, and public speaking at churches throughout the South.

After her tenure with SNCC, McCollum took a job as a Day Care Center Director in Harlem for about twenty years. Then, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where she trained dogs, rode horses, and traveled. In 2000, she moved back to Tennessee where she lived until her death on May 1, 2014.

Salynn McCollum