Jail Instead of Bail - The Tipping Point for Public Space Integration
On April 10, 1962, a waitress at H&H Walgreens refused service to Martha Hereford, six months pregnant, Joan Cashin, Joan’s four-month-old daughter Sheryll, Reverend Ezekiel Bell, Reverend S.F. Lacey, and student activist Frances Sims. The owner of the Walgreens in the Heart of Huntsville Mall, William L. Hutchins, asked them to leave. When they did not, local authorities were called and they were arrested for sitting-in at the lunch counter. On April 19, at their arraignment, the three women refused to post bond and were placed in the Madison County Jail. Mayor R.B. “Spec” Searcy signed an order for the release of Mrs. Hereford and Mrs. Cashin, but they refused to leave until Frances Sims was released. The three women spent 33 hours in jail. The headline in The Huntsville Times read, “Trio of Negroes Chose the Jail Instead of Bail.” The ladies were bonded out of jail on the same day that George C. Wallace, a gubernatorial candidate, was campaigning outside the Madison County Courthouse. The CSC (Community Service Committee) was protesting with posters, singing, and chanting anti-segregation slogans, and releasing balloons with freedom-themed attachments.
Backstory and Context
April of 1962 was a flurry of activity for the CSC as its members maintained sit-ins, boycotts, and poster walks and intensified pressure on the city with new tactics. Faced with The Huntsville Times’s news blackout of civil rights events, the CSC engineered a situation sure to grab headlines. On April 10, Martha Hereford, who was six months pregnant, and Joan Cashin with her four-month-old daughter Sheryll, sat in at H&H Walgreens with every intention of being arrested for refusing to leave. They were accompanied by CSC president Revered Ezekiel Bell, Reverend S.F. Lacey, and student activist Frances Sims.
As expected, the sit-inners were arrested, baby Sheryll in tow. There, the men were released under a $300 bond but the three women refused to ask for an appeal bond, much to the dismay of Police Chief Grover Pylant who hoped to avoid an uproar over the situation. He resolved to release the three women “on their own recognizance” that day.
The next week, as Jet magazine published a photo of Joan Cashin being arrested with her infant in arms, the three women arrived for their arraignment and again refused to post bond. This left the court with no choice but to send Martha Hereford, Joan Cashin, and Frances Sims back to jail, this time without baby Sheryll. At the Madison County Jail, the women faced inhospitable conditions as the jailers tried to convince them to post bond and leave, but with the support of the CSC and the black community they held fast to their principles.
Supporters brought the women three meals a day, and organized a telephone committee of people calling the jail and the mayor to inquire, “Is it true you have mothers in jail, you have a pregnant woman in jail?” An exasperated Mayor R.B. Searcy called Dr. John Cashin, urging him to post bond for his wife. After thirty-three hours in the Madison County jail, the three women finally relented and posted bond for themselves after The Huntsville Times published news of the event and national news outlets picked up the dramatic story of protests in the Rocket City.
By July of 1962, the City of Huntsville began “trial integrations” at lunch counters, with no violence. African American Residents began to go to theatres, to drink from the water fountain of their choice, and to take their children to play in public parks. Schools, however, were still segregated.
This is Rocket City, U.S.A., Let Freedom Begin Here, Chapter 2, a Master's Thesis by Kelly Hamlin, available at www.rocketcitycivilrights.org
In The Shadows of Birmingham: The 1962-1963 Huntsville Civil Rights Movement, J.Brandon Curnel, 2016
We Could Not Fail by Richard Paul and Steven Moss.
The Agitator’s Daughter by Sheryll Cashin.
Interviews with Dr. Sonnie Hereford III by Jack Ellis, available at www.rocketcitycivilrights.org.