1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders
During the first ever Unsung Heroes Awards Gala, we will honor the below Freedom "Flyers," as prominent figures and activists that have truly imprinted their mark on this world and who's legacies will forever live on.
Rev. Matthew Petway was born in Camden, Alabama where his father was a sharecropper. He
left there as a teenager prior to him completing his education eventually moving to Pensacola,
Florida where he met and married Ernestine Kelly. He accepted a call to the ministry and was
ordained in the AME Zion Church. He served in the military during World War II and after his tour
of duty, he completed his GED, was accepted to Alabama State University where he earned a B.S.
Rev. Petway was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement throughout his life. He was a
committed minister of the AME Zion Church, member of the NAACP and The Montgomery
Improvement Association. On July 24, 1961, he and two of his children boarded a Delta flight
from Montgomery to Jackson, MS where they were arrested and spent three days in Hines
He was a devoted husband and father of six children. True to his calling, true to his community,
spending his life trying to ensure that we could live in a world where there were equal rights
for all, where one is not judged on their skin color.
1913 - 1972
Kredelle Petway, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement was born in Camden, AL, and spent the majority of her formative years in Pensacola, FL. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, FL. Received a B.S. Degree from Florida A& M University - Tallahassee, FL.
As a young adult living in the Jim Crow South she decided to participate in protest for desegregation while attending FAMU in Tallahassee, Fl. She was arrested after the police threw tear gas into the group of protesters.
As the daughter of Rev. Dr. Matthew Petway, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Minister, who was a staunch civil rights activist, she became more involved in the civil rights movement in Montgomery, AL. During her school breaks, she volunteered with the Montgomery Improvement Ass. (which was organized by Dr. King) and N.A.A.C.P. She worked with the Voter Registration Drive and other projects as needed in the civil rights movement under her father’s direction.
On July 24, 1961, she became a Freedom Rider along with her father, one of her younger brothers, Alphonso and Cecil Thomas, a graduate student from Ohio.
They flew from Montgomery, AL, to Jackson, MS, where they were all arrested and charged with Breach of Peace for attempting to desegregate the airport there. They were taken to the Hinds County Jail in Jackson, MS where they spent several days before their release.
Rev. Alphonso Petway
Alphonso was born in Pensacola, Florida, and lived about four blocks from a school he was never allowed to attend. “I walked by Pensacola High School to go to Booker T. Washington Jr. High School that was 10 blocks further down the road. Often times, I had encounters with the white kids.”
Alphonso Petway, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement was born in Pensacola, Florida. His
father, the late Rev. Dr. Matthew Petway was an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister,
which afforded him the opportunity to attended schools in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky and
graduated from Lynch West Main High School, Lynch, Ky. He received a B.S in Sociology from St.
Catherine Spalding University, Louisville, Ky. Other professional studies included Hood Theological
Seminary, and Miles Law School.
As the son of a Civil Rights activist, Rev. Alphonso K Petway joined the Freedom Rides in 1961
in Montgomery, Alabama at the age of 16. He traveled by air plane from Montgomery to Jackson,
Mississippi with his father, sister, Kredelle Petway and Cecil Thomas, a graduate student from Ohio
State University. His involvement grew out of the need for a family to travel by plane to test the
Interstate commerce. Prior to the Freedom Rides, Alphonso was trained in Civil Disobedience at
Hollander Folk School.
Cecil A. Thomas
1917 - 1969
Born in Frankfort, Ohio in 1917, Cecil A. Thomas was working as a YMCA secretary in Berkeley, California when he was arrested for his participation in the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961. Thomas, along with Matthew Petway and his two children, participated in a Freedom Ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi where the group was arrested in the Jackson airport on July 24, 1961.