1961 Freedom Rider, John Taylor, Dies at 78

1961 Freedom Rider, John Taylor, Dies at 78

A memorial service will be held Friday for John Charles Taylor Jr., a lifelong activist for racial equality and one of the Freedom Riders in the South in 1961, who died March 8 at age 78 at John Muir Medical Center in Concord.

Taylor was born June 23, 1935, in Houston and came to the Bay Area in 1941 when his parents, Ella Dugar Taylor and John Charles Taylor Sr., moved to Berkeley.

Taylor attended Berkeley schools, graduating from Berkeley High School in 1953. It was during this time that the family experienced the kind of discrimination that would lead to his involvement in the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Taylor, in a 2007 interview, recounted how his mother was unable to get work as a nurse in California because the state had ruled that her degree from Dillard University, a historically black institution in New Orleans, was insufficient. She had to earn the same degree again at UC Berkeley, and in 1946 became the first black registered nurse in California.

Taylor, who joined the U.S. Air Force after Berkeley High and was honorably discharged in 1956, married his high school sweetheart Deanna O’Neal in 1955. It was around that time that he became active in the Congress of Racial Equality.

That involvement, in turn, led him to sign on as one of the famed Freedom Riders, men and women who risked their well being to integrate travel in bus and train stations in the United States.

In 1961, Taylor departed Berkeley to join the Freedom Riders in Jackson, Miss. There he participated in civil rights demonstrations and spent two weeks in jail after entering a “white only” waiting room in a Mississippi train station. He and other protesters were bailed out of jail by Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In later years, Taylor proudly displayed his jail booking photos, along with a display about Marshall, in the annual African American History Month display at Easter Hill United Methodist Church in Richmond, where he was a longtime congregation member.

He wanted future generations to know the sacrifices that had been made to give them a better life.

“The children have got to know what these people have gone through to get where they were going,” he said in 2007.

In 2011, even though his health had declined, Taylor had the satisfaction of returning with other Freedom Riders to the Greyhound station in Jackson, Miss., where a marker was dedicated in memory of the barrier-breaking protest.

Taylor attended Laney College, San Francisco State and The Catholic Labor Institute at UC Berkeley.

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Source: Contra Costa Times | Chris Treadway

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