Pauline Knight-Ofosu, 72: Freedom rider and civil rights activist

In May 1961, Pauline Knight-Ofosu, then a Tennessee State University student, boarded a bus with a group of civil rights activists and set out to challenge the South’s segregation of passengers on interstate transport.

Knight-Ofosu was prepared for the possible backlash – mob attacks, savage beatings, arrests and even death – but she remained steadfast on her quest to do what was right. In a 2011 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Knight-Ofosu spoke about the maltreatment she witnessed growing up in the Deep South, and the reason she decided to act. “It was hard to watch your mother and father – who deserved to be treated like citizens – being treated unjustly. That was wrong, and if something is going on you don’t like, stop complaining and do something,” she said.

Dr. Pauline Knight-Ofosu of Rex died March 25 of natural causes at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale. She was 72. A celebration of life is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Democratic Party of Georgia building in Atlanta. SouthCare Cremation and Funeral Society of Stockbridge is in charge of arrangements.

The Freedom Riders movement was organized by the Congress for Racial Equality. A group of blacks and whites rode interstate buses into the segregated South to bring national attention to its failure to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1946 ruling that outlawed segregated public buses. Atlantan Dr. William “Bill” Harbour, a close friend of Knight-Ofosu, was one of those riders. In a previously published interview with the AJC he said, “We were ready when we left Nashville … If you look at the Freedom Riders, at least 50 percent were white. Even at that time you had young white students who were willing to help us out.”

Knight-Ofosu later obtained degrees from Tennessee State and St. Vincent School of Medical Technology. She retired as a biologist from the Environmental Protection Agency. For some, retirement would have been a time of relaxation. Knight-Ofosu went to work, using the opportunity to pass the baton to the next generation. She joined fellow Freedom Riders for speaking engagements and participated in various youth programs. “She was very concerned about the children and their future,” said neighbor Tracey Davis of Rex.

The efforts of the Freedom Riders have been acknowledged on several occasions. In 2008, Tennessee State University bestowed honorary doctor of humane letters degrees on Knight-Ofosu and 13 others. All were expelled from the university in 1961, and some had to sue for readmission. “She was always an outstanding person. She deserved the recognition she received,” Davis said. The 50th anniversary of the rides was marked with notable events, including the release of a film, reunions, re-enactments and a tribute on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Davis said Knight-Ofosu was a humble person who had a “zeal for life,” and that she would be remembered for her kindness, wisdom and the love she had for her family. “She had the kind of spirit that would draw you in,” Davis said.

Dr. Pauline Knight-Ofosu is survived by daughter, Durrette Ofosu of Rex; brother, Howard G. Knight of Tallahassee, Fla.; and sister, Alice Florence Knight of Columbus.

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