Ellen Ziskind: portrait with pearls

Ellen Ziskind

In commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the University of Massachusetts Lowell is celebrating local people who were involved in helping African-Americans obtain their civil rights throughout the nation.

Ellen Ziskind, who was born and brought up in Lowell, Massachusetts, was a pioneer in the movement. Volunteering to be a Freedom Rider during the summer of 1961, Ellen first traveled on a Greyhound bus to Nashville, Tennessee where she and her fellow activists were assaulted with eggs by a hostile white crowd.

Riding next to Jackson, Mississippi Ellen arrived and promptly sat in the “Colored” waiting area. Arrested for refusing to move over to the “Whites Only” section, Ellen was sentenced to six months imprisonment and sent to Parchman Farm, the Mississippi Penitentiary. Ziskind mug shot

In prison, Ellen learned how to survive the isolation of solitary confinement in repurposed cells usually utilized for death row inmates.

Eventually released, Ellen returned to Lowell to tell her story to a largely indifferent and disbelieving public. Her experience, however, had long term meaning as her individual sacrifices contributed to the passing of legislation which changed Southern society.

The University Library conducted an oral history interview with Ellen Ziskind in order to preserve her important story. You can listen to her narrative here: http://libhost.uml.edu/items/show/23414

Questions about this project can be directed to Mehmed Ali at Mehmed_ali@uml.edu.