Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Bernard LaFayatte, Jr. “The Siege of the Freedom Riders”
May 20, 2011

Op-Ed:Bernard LaFayette, Jr. The Siege of the Freedom Riders

Twenty-two Freedom Riders left Birmingham on Saturday morning 20 May 1961, Bernard LaFayette, Jr. among them. The morning began with the Riders stranded on the bus platform with no driver and a gathering mob outside.  The scheduled Greyhound driver for the Birmingham to Montgomery route decided at the last minute that he would not drive the bus. 
After a series of frantic phone calls between Department of Justice aid, John Seigenthaler, and the top Greyhound officials in Atlanta and Birmingham, a driver was found and the Freedom Riders boarded the bus.  According to an agreement worked out by Seigenthaler and Alabama Governor Patterson a few days prior, the local police departments of Birmingham and Montgomery would be responsible for the Riders inside city limits while the Alabama State police would provide protection on the open highway. 
The bus left Birmingham without incident at 6:00 am on Saturday morning, however, when it arrived in Montgomery at 10:20 am the promised police protection was no where to be found.  Moments after they exited the bus the small group of travelers were overwhelmed by an angry mob armed with lead pipes and baseball bats.  It was during this attack that Jim Zwerg, William Barbee, John Lewis and John Seigenthaler were beaten unconscious.


Arsenault, Freedom Riders, 2006.

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