The civil rights era Freedom Riders, who risked their lives and limbs by riding various forms of public transportation in the South to challenge local laws that sanctioned segregation during the turbulent ’60s, have finally received an apology — albeit decades overdue — from the Montgomery, Ala., police chief, according to NBC News.
Police chief Kevin Murphy’s (pictured right) apology was made at the historic First Baptist Church on Saturday not only to the famed Freedom Riders but also, personally, to U.S. Representative of Georgia, John Lewis (pictured left), who was a member of the historical civil rights crusaders. Lewis was in town as part for the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimmage to Alabama.
Lewis was a prominent leader in the Civil Right Movement and became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963 during its most-productive years. In 1961, as one of the 13 original members of the Freedom Riders, the group was organized to test a Supreme Court decision that desegregated interstate travel.
Traveling south to Montgomery, Lewis was struck on the head with a wooden crate, which resulted in a skull fracture, and severely beaten along with the 12 other Riders by angry southern mobs. The Riders were then arrested and thrown in jail.
Being beaten and seeing the inside of jail cells became commonplace for Lewis and the 12 other Riders. At one point, in Anniston, Ala., Lewis’ bus was even fire bombed by the Ku Klux Klan after they had deflated the vehicle’s tires to get it to stop.
Southern police did nothing to protect the Riders and stood by idly as they were brutally attacked.
Now, some 50 years after the horrific events that the Riders had to endure in order to secure civil rights for Blacks, Murphy apologized to Lewis, offering his badge. The law enforcer admitted the police department in Montgomery at the time had cosigned on laws that were morally unjust while the Riders protested in Montgomery.
The police chief told NBC News that his decision to apologize for the unjustices that were done to the Riders was easy stating, ”For me, freedom and the right to live in peace is a cornerstone of our society and that was something that Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Congressman Lewis were trying to achieve.
“I think what I did today should have been done a long time ago. It needed to be done. It needed to be spoken because we have to live with the truth and it is the truth.”
Meanwhile, Lewis became emotional when he received Murphy’s apology, which was the first one he had ever gotten by someone who upheld the law in the South.
Watch news coverage of the apology here:
Yet both men agree that there is still plenty to do and Murphy admits that the Montgomery police department has to continue to grow and “move forward”:
“Those unjust laws were immoral and wrong, but you know what? It’s a new day. And there’s a new police department and a new Montgomery here and now and on the horizon.”