Helen Singleton ’74

Helen Singleton is an activist, Freedom Rider, program developer, and arts consultant. Her life of activism stems from childhood experiences. She grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the shadow of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Philadelphia’s public schools inculcated their young pupils with a love and respect for the nation’s founding doctrines of Freedom and Equality. However, each summer, while visiting her grandmother’s farm in Lawrenceville, Virginia, she witnessed and experienced myriad forms of discrimination and segregation based on race, skin color, and former condition of servitude. She could not reconcile the rhetoric of freedom and equality in the northern states with the practices of separation of the races in the southern states. After witnessing this debasing social structure firsthand, Singleton felt compelled to join the struggle for change in any way she could. Upon moving to Los Angeles, she supported the Sit-ins in North Carolina by picketing Woolworth stores in Southern California in sympathy with the students seeking service at its lunch counters in the south. In the summer of 1961, while she was a student at Santa Monica College, she joined the Freedom Rides along with her husband, Robert Singleton and many others, testing the southern states compliance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions declaring all forms of segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional. This practice of nonviolent direct action led to her arrest in Jackson, Mississippi and, refusing to pay bail, her incarceration in Parchman Penitentiary. After returning from the Freedom Rides, she continued her studies, transferred to UCLA and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. She later received a master’s degree in Public Policy Analysis and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. Since then, she has worked with educational institutions, non-profit organizations and consulted with art museums and state arts councils. She has received the Rosa Parks Humanitarian Award and the Ralph Bunche Humanitarian Award.

"I could not reconcile the rhetoric of Freedom and Equality that I was taught in the North, with the discriminating practices that I experienced in the South."