February’s Featured Chess Set is part of the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). Since its creation in 1986, the WCHOF has endeavored to highlight the history and cultural significance of the game of chess. The WCHOF’s collection is diverse and includes sets once owned by legendary players, mass-produced sets with lively pop culture themes, antique ivory sets, travel sets, as well as chess computers. Through these artifacts, the WCHOF illustrates how chess has evolved through its over 1500-year history. This set is part of a generous donation from Carol Ruth Silver to the collection of the WCHOF.
This 3d-printed chess set is a replica of a set created by Freedom Rider Carol Ruth Silver. The original, which she donated to the archives of Tougaloo College during the Freedom Riders’ 40th anniversary reunion, is now on view at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized Freedom Rides, in which civil rights activists intended to test the enforcement of Boynton v. Virginia (1960), a Supreme Court ruling that stated that racial segregation in interstate bus and rail travel and stations was unconstitutional.
The Freedom Riders faced violence from mobs opposed to desegregation, who were often in collaboration with local police. Many, like Silver, were arrested when they attempted to enter segregated facilities. Silver and other Freedom Riders were sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm), where she served 40 days. She created a chess set from saliva and bread to help pass the time. The dark pieces were colored with blood, and the board was made from a page in a prison-issued Bible. In her book The Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes From Parchman Prison (2014), Silver described playing chess with an inmate in another cell by shouting the notation for their moves to each other.