Original Freedom Rider Patricia Dilworth laid to rest, honored for her bravery, service

During Women’s History Month, a woman who altered American history is paid immense respect

SAN ANTONIO – She was one of the original freedom riders. She was an Army sergeant. She was a San Antonian, and she was a hero.

On Wednesday, with heavy hearts, Ret. Sgt. Patricia Dilworth’s loved ones and admirers said goodbye to the legend at her memorial and funeral service.

Dilworth died Feb. 21 and was buried at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery.

“She discovered her calling early in life to bring about equality,” said her longtime pastor, Dr. Jerry Bailey, with Macedonia Baptist Church.

KSAT was able to get a coveted interview with Dilworth back in 2019 as she did her yearly activism, speaking to and educating children in San Antonio about the Freedom Riders, Civil Rights Movement, and non-violent forms of protest.

Freedom Riders to take part in MLK March in San Antonio

“We were going into the part of the train station that was for whites only,” Dilworth said in 2019.

Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Dilworth joined the Freedom Riders at age 17 in 1961 after watching the Mississippi civil rights activities on the television. She saw on television Blacks being beaten, buses set on fire and signs over water fountains saying whites only and Colored only.

She was arrested July 9, 1961, for breach of peace, a misdemeanor.

After returning to Houston, she was arrested for staging a sit-in at Kress Drug Store.

“I waved at the waitress and said, ‘Can I get served?’ And she told me I had to go to the back of the restaurant,” Dilworth explained during her 2019 interview with KSAT.

“She lived outside of her comfort zone, simply to make a difference. We’re benefitting today from that kind of unselfish service,” Bailey said.

In the earlier days of the Freedom Riders, Dilworth was arrested in Mississippi alongside Barbara Bowie’s brother.

“It ended up being about 400 of them in that penitentiary for 39 days, so I thought that was very powerful,” Bowie said.

That powerful sacrifice inspired Bowie to participate in sit-ins at the age of 13. Decades later, she joined Dilworth every year where they lived in San Antonio, educating local children.

Dilworth’s major role in the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t her only great service to the United States. She joined the U.S. Army on March 4, 1974, and retired June 1, 1998, as a sergeant major with 24 years of service.

Up until her death, Dilworth continued commenting on the state of equality in our country, making an effort to push the envelope.

“I see us going back and I hope people will fight, not only for Blacks but for anybody that is being persecuted,” Dilworth said two years ago.

Those words still echo in hearts across the nation. Even after passing, Dilworth is still inspiring others to stand up for what’s right.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.