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Fri, 05.20.2011

50 Years Later, Freedom Riders Reunite in Montgomery

Freedom Riders reunite in prayer

On this date in 2011, Freedom Riders who were attacked in Birmingham, Alabama returned to that city 50 years later.

Participants were to be hailed as heroes and the trip coincided with a museum dedicated at the old bus station where they were attacked by an angry white mob.  The Freedom Riders were mostly college students, Blacks and whites, who set out on Greyhound and Trailways buses across the South to test a U.S. Supreme Court decision banning segregation in interstate transportation. After one bus was firebombed near Anniston and the Ku Klux Klan threatened and beat Freedom Riders in Birmingham, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy secured a promise from then John Gov. Patterson to have state troopers protect the group's bus from Birmingham to Montgomery.  Patterson kept his word, with state trooper cars and a helicopter guarding the bus.

But when they reached Montgomery's Greyhound station, police were not there. Instead, an angry crowd fueled by Klansmen beat them, journalists and a Justice Department official John Seigenthaler after he came to the riders' aid.  The bus-station attack prompted a court order against the Klan by U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson of Montgomery and led to new federal rules guaranteeing an end to segregation in all aspects of interstate travel.

The old bus station was slated for demolition in 1993 to make way for an expansion of the courthouse. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson and Patterson advocated that the bus station be spared because of its place in history.  After it sat empty for many years, the Alabama Historical Commission developed the 3,000-square-foot museum.

The Associated Press
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