Biography

Catherine Burks-Brooks

Catherine Burks-Brooks

Freedom Rider Birmingham, AL

Birmingham, AL native, 21-year-old Catherine Burks was a student at Tennessee State University when she volunteered for the Nashville Movement Freedom Ride. On May 18, she bantered with the ultra-segregationist Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor as he drove the Nashville riders from jail back to the Tennessee state line.

In Freedom Riders, Burks says she borrowed a line from the Westerns of the day, telling Connor, "We'll see you back in Birmingham by high noon."

Two days later, she found herself in a riot at the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station. In Freedom Riders, she vividly recalls the assault on fellow Freedom Rider Jim Zwerg. "Some men held him while white women clawed his face with their nails. And they held up their little children --children who couldn't have been more than a couple years old -- to claw his face. I had to turn my head back because I just couldn't watch it."

She described the beginning of the siege of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery by an angry segregationist mob on the following day. "I heard a rock hit the window. Some of us got up to look out the window and we got hit by more rocks. That's when a little fear came."

In August 1961, she married fellow Freedom Rider Paul Brooks. They were later active in the Mississippi voter registration movement, co-editing the Mississippi Free Press from 1962-1963. In the decades following the Freedom Rides, Burks owned a successful jewelry boutique and worked as a social worker, teacher, and Avon cosmetics sales manager.

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