Tuesday, May 20, 2014



Montgomery, Alabama (JFK+50) A bus load of Freedom Riders came under attack here in Montgomery 53 years ago today, May 20, 1961.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had convinced Greyhound Bus Company officials to transport this group of Freedom Riders to the Alabama state capital at Montgomery.

When they arrived at the bus terminal,however, 300 segregationists were waiting for them with clubs and metal pipes.

Among the most seriously injured were Jim Swerg* and John Lewis.**

Swerg's suitcase was taken from him and used to hit him in the face and knock him to the ground.  He was then beaten repeatedly by the mob.

From his hospital bed, Mr. Swerg said...

"Segregation must be stopped.  It must be broken down.  Those of us in the Freedom Rides will continue."

John Lewis later described what he had experienced in Montgomery this way...

"It was very violent.  I thought I was going to die.  I was left lying at the bus station unconscious."

*Jim Swerg was born in 1939 in Appleton, Wisconsin.  He attended Beloit College and also was an exchange student at Fisk University in Nashville.  Jim joined SNCC in 1960.

            John Lewis and Jim Swerg
            After the Montgomery Attack
                           May 20, 1961

**John Lewis was born to a family of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama in 1940.  He graduated from Alabama Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University.  

John was chairman of SNCC during the civil rights era and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders.  He is currently representing Georgia's 5th District in the United States Congress.

An administrative assistant to Attorney General Bob Kennedy, John Seigenthaler,*** who had been sent to Montgomery as chief negotiator for the Kennedy administration, was knocked unconscious while attempting to assist a young female freedom rider who was being chased by the angry mob.

President John F. Kennedy called upon Alabama Governor John Patterson to exercise his authority to prevent further outbreaks of violence.

                         John Seigenthaler
                     Nashville, Tennessee
          Photo by Curtis Palmer (2005)

***John Seigenthaler, Sr. was born in Nashville in 1927.  He served in the USAF and began his career in journalism with the Nashville Tennessean.  In 1961, John served as RFK's assistant in the Justice Department and became publisher of the TENNESSEAN in 1973.


I had the pleasure of attending two of Mr. Seigenthaler's speeches, the first at the University of Tennessee in 2005 and the 2nd at the Nashville Public Library in 2008. 

It was also a pleasure to speak to John after both talks.  His talks were so riveting.  I thanked him for his service to President Kennedy and to the United States.  

                Greyhound Bus Terminal
                  Montgomery, Alabama
                  Photo by Drmies (2009)