Winonah Beemer Myers
Winonah Beemer Myers, Central State College Class of 1967, is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. A life-long educator and advocate for the oppressed and economically disadvantaged, she has dedicated her life to making a difference. Parenthetically, the summer of 1961 in the United States of America was the best of times underscored by the worst of times. The Kennedy administration and a sense of optimism were sweeping the country while racism and discrimination ravaged the South. When she was 19, she spent much of a year in the most notorious lockup in the South, Mississippi State Prison, better known as Parchman Farm. The gas chamber was a few cells away from her death row cubicle. At night she whispered through the ventilation system to an inmate who later was executed.
On June 9, 1961, Winonah and four other young civil rights activists, some black and some white, walked into a train station in Jackson, ignored the “colored” waiting room and took their seats in the “white” waiting room. They were quickly arrested for breaching the peace.
Winonah and her friends were known as Freedom Riders. A U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibited segregation at interstate public transportation facilities including airports, trains and bus stations, but the law was ignored in the Deep South. Freedom Riders, including white people like Myers, challenged the tradition by drawing worldwide attention to the reality of Southern living. Before the year was out, nearly 400 Freedom Riders had been arrested. Myers stubbornly refused bail, and refused even to file an appeal. Jailed on June 11, she stayed behind bars until Christmas Day.
Sharing her experiences, Winonah said, “They took us to the maximum-security unit - at the other end of the hallway were death row and the gas chamber. Two of us shared a cell 6-feet by 9-feet, but that included a toilet and a sink and two beds. We never got out of the cell to exercise. We got to shower twice a week. This was summer with no air conditioning. You got two minutes to shower before the water went off automatically.”
Winonah continued her education and subsequently married fellow Freedom Rider, Charles David Myers, in 1962. Her comprehensive educational background in psychology was an excellent foundation for a career dedicated to working with severely and mentally-challenged adolescents.
After graduation she continued to pursue the study of her heart’s desire and worked to improve access and inclusion of the functionally disabled in the larger community. Her graduate coursework included studies in neuro-psychological assessment, behavior modification, curricular development, and rehabilitation at Wright State University.
Following her retirement from the Montgomery County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Winonah moved to Ellenton, Florida, in a community on the banks of the Manatee River with her husband of 50 years, David Myers. She works part-time as a toll collector on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. David and Winonah are the proud parents and grandparents of three daughters and granddaughters respectively. They belong to the Audubon Society, Florida Railroad Museum, and are members of St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church.