This Day in Civil Rights History - MAY

January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December

May 31, 1955

Supreme Court Orders Schools to Desegregate With "All Deliberate Speed" in Brown II - Southern States Use Ruling to Slow Progress

Thurgood Marshall explains segregation ruling to the press, May 31, 1955, Library of Congress
Excerpted in whole from 1955 May 31 “All Deliberate Speed:” Implementing Brown v. Board of Education, Today In Civil Liberties History

The Supreme Court on this day, in what came to be called Brown II, ruled on the process for implementing school desegregation pursuant to Brown v. Board of Education (May 17, 1954).

Rather than issue an implementation plan of its own, the Court remanded implementation to the federal District Courts, allowing them to take into account local conditions and administrative problems involved in desegregation.

The Court held that desegregation should proceed with “all deliberate speed.” In practice, it proved to be painfully slow. The first Mississippi public schools, for example, were not integrated until the fall of 1965.

Unfortunately, school integration in the south did not proceed with any speed, as local communities continued to resists efforts at integration. One tactic was the creation of a network of all-white private schools, which served to preserve the old form of racial segregation in a different form. In states outside the south, meanwhile, racial integration rose for several years, peaked in the late 1990s, and then declined. The movement of white families from cities into suburbs with separate school systems served to perpetuate racial segregation in city schools. Some experts calculated that by the late 1990s, the combined developments in the south and outside the south caused American public schools to be more racially segregated than ever before.

“The cases are remanded to the District Courts to take such proceedings and enter such orders and decrees consistent with this opinion as are necessary and proper to admit to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed the parties to these cases.”
Oliver Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Judgement, May 31, 1955. In Brown vs. Board of Education, a collection of five related cases, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenged the legality of racial segregation in public schools. The Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated public schools violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a second decision, the court called for integration “with all deliberate speed.” Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration. Image above reformatted for this post.
John Hope Franklin discusses his role in researching the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case in 1953. From The HistoryMakers oral history project, via ProQuest.

May 30, 1963

Police Use Tear Gas Against Florida A&M Students Protesting Against Segregation in Tallahassee Theaters

Civil rights demonstrators being marched off to jail after defying restraining orders May 30, 1963 (Credit: Tallahassee Democrat Collection, State Archives of Florida)
Excerpted in whole from Florida A&M Theater Protest, May 1963, Clio: Your Guide to History

In the summer of 1963, hundreds of students from Florida A&M protested segregation at several downtown theaters, including the State Theatre which was located here on Monroe Street. Hundreds of students met on campus and marched down Monroe Street protesting the theater. After nine days of protest, dozens of students were arrested on May 30, 1963. The protests continued throughout the summer.

The protest began with meetings and strategy sessions led by veterans of the Civil Rights Movement as well as local students. In May, hundreds of students met on campus to hear speakers and many of these students decided to risk arrest in order to protest segregation in Tallahassee.

By August, some of the protesters faced physical assault for their participation in civil rights activism. Some were arrested and jailed for almost a week. The corner of Jefferson St. and Monroe St. features a commemorative sidewalk that includes the names of many of the participants in this and other protests against segregation in the city from 1960 to 1963.

Tear Gas Routs Florida Negroes, New York Times, May 31, 1963. Reformatted for this post - click image for readable size.
Caption reads: "On May 30, 1963, 220 students were arrested for protesting segregated movie theaters in Tallahassee. In response to the arrests, 200 Florida A&M students began to march, resulting in the arrest of 37 more students. Charges were dropped against all 257 students on May 31 during their hearing." From African American students in Tallahassee circuit courtroom, Florida Memory.

May 29, 1965

300 Voting Rights Activists March Through Brandon, Mississippi - Dubbed the "Little Selma March"

Label on photograph reads: "Brandon, Mississippi, May 29, 1965. Going home after the end of a two day march, registration attempt at the courthouse (in background), and freedom rally on the courthouse lawn addressed by James Farmer." From the Ronnie Moore Papers, Amistad Research Center, Tilton Hall, Tulane University
Excerpted in whole from Little Selma March, Mississippi Civil Rights Project

On May 29, 1965, in imitation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, a group of 300 civil rights activists marched along Route 471 in Brandon, MS. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the march, with the intention of presenting the Rankin County courthouse in Brandon with a petition against discrimination against black voters. The march was lead by George Raymond, along with several members of COFO from Canton, Jackson, and McComb. The marchers, after presenting their petition, attempted to take the voting registration test in the voting office but were denied as many were deemed ineligible.

135 in Mississippi March in Protest, New York Times, May 29, 1965, page 10 Reformatted for this post. Click link for full story.
At right: Mississippi March Ends in Kindness, New York Times, May 30, 1965, page 36 Reformatted for this post.

May 28, 1963

Tougaloo College Student Demonstrators Sit-in at a Woolworth's Lunch Counter in Jackson, Mississippi

In this May 28, 1963 file photo, a group of whites pour sugar, ketchup and mustard over the heads of Tougaloo College student demonstrators at a sit-in demonstration at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi. Seated at the counter, from left, are Tougaloo College professor John Hunter Gray (John R. Salter, Jr.) and students Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody. (Fred Blackwell/The Clarion-Ledger)
Excerpted in whole from May 28, 1963: Woolworth Sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi, Zinn Education Project

On May 28, 1963, students and faculty from Tougaloo College staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi.

This was the most violently attacked sit-in during the 1960s. A huge mob gathered, with open police support while the three of us sat there for three hours. I was attacked with fists, brass knuckles and the broken portions of glass sugar containers, and was burned with cigarettes. FBI agents were observing inside but took no action. — Tougaloo College professor John Salter (Hunter Bear), seated in photo on video below with Tougaloo College students Joan Trumpauer (now Mulholland), and Anne Moody (author of Coming of Age in Mississippi).

For three hours, the group endured insults and attacks by an increasingly violent white mob. Tougaloo student Memphis Norman was physically thrown from his seat and kicked in the head as he lay on the floor. The rest of the white mob slapped the protesters, hit them with items from the lunch counter, and even burned cigarettes on their skin. Others dumped drinks on the protesters or laughed as others covered them in sugar, mustard, and ketchup. Jackson Daily News photographer Fred Blackwell took the now iconic photo of the sit-in that depicted the anger of the white mob. [Source.]

Learn more about the Jackson sit-in in the book We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired.

The Southern Foodways website, Counter Histories, offers a short film on the Jackson sit-in.
Excerpted in whole from Excerpted in whole from May 28, 1963: Woolworth Sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson Free Press, Jackson, Mississippi, May 23, 2013

John Salter, a social science professor at Tougaloo College, sat with his students Anne Moody, Pearlena Lewis and Memphis Norman--a white man and three black students--at the "Whites Only" counter in Woolworth's store lunch counter. Nobody would serve them. Behind them was a growing crowd of frenzied onlookers, police officers and news people. It was 11:15 a.m. on May 28, 1963.

Bill Minor, then a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, was there that day. He was the Mississippi correspondent covering civil rights events in Jackson and the state. Minor, tipped off by Medgar Evers, gathered with the other news people at the planned sit-in and watched the scene unfold.

"The people working behind the counter at Woolworth's were afraid to serve anybody," Minor says. "They just let them sit there. They wouldn't serve them. That's what they were ordered to do--not serve any blacks."

Some people wanted no trouble and left the counter, leaving them alone. After the students sat for a while, the crowd began to taunt them. They wanted the "n*ggers"--both white and black--to leave. By noon, high school students from Central High School (since disbanded, now the Department of Education building) came inside on their lunch hour, looking for action. Soon the space was filled with an anxious crowd, whipping themselves up. A mob was forming.

The verbal abuse escalated to physical altercations. People poured mustard and ketchup on the heads of John, Anne, Pearlena and Memphis. Another (white) student from Tougaloo, Joan Trumpauer (now Mulholland) stood outside as a look-out for any counter-protesters. Inside, people kept pouring the condiments on their heads.

Police officers watched the events unfold but did nothing.

In a quick burst, someone pulled Memphis Norman off his stool and threw him to the ground.

"These white thugs began kicking him in the face right there on the floor," Minor recalls.

Blood fell from Norman's mouth. The other students remained seated.

"The police officers were inside of the store watching the whole thing, just a few feet away while these thugs were kicking this young black guy," Minor says. "Kicking him in the face, and they did nothing to restrain them. They let it go on for a good while. Finally, they broke it up." The police officers arrested Norman and someone who attacked him.

Anne was pulled from her seat, as was Pearlena, but they were not struck, and they fought their way back to the counter. By this time, Lois Chaffee, a white faculty member at Tougaloo, and Joan Trumpauer took seats at the counter.

John Salter was struck down by a punch, leaving Anne, Pearlena, Joan and Lois--two blacks, two whites--at the counter. Their bodies were smeared with dried ketchup, mustard, sugar, anything that was on the counter. They sat and faced the front.

Minor recalls covering the event, unable to help or interfere. "Being a newsman--even though it might tear your heart out," Minor says, "you can't get involved."

They sat at the counter for hours. Finally, the manager of the store closed it down. It was finally time to leave, but it was hard to leave--there was a crowd outside, too. No police officer would escort them out, so the president of Tougaloo College, Dr. A. D. Beittel, who arrived after he heard what was going on, led the students out of Woolworth's.

Years later, Anne Moody went on to write in her autobiography "Coming of Age In Mississippi": "When we got outside, the policemen formed a single line that blocked the mob from us. However, they were allowed to throw at us everything they had collected."

The four were taken to the NAACP headquarters on Lynch Street.

Moody also wrote that, later that night, a huge meeting of people gathered to organize more demonstrations. Medgar Evers told the crowd that the Woolworth sit-in was just the beginning, a continuation of the ones held in North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, and was a precursor to what was coming; Jackson would be a place to take a stand. Evers was shot in the back and died in his driveway three weeks later.

See also: December 12, 1962, Jackson Boycott Movement Begins with Picket at Woolworth's by 4 Black Tougaloo Students, Professor & Wife

May 27, 1956

Tallahassee Bus Boycott Sparked when 2 Florida A&M University Students Arrested for Sitting in White Section

The Jackson Boycott continued until early June, 1963, In this May 28, 1963 file photo, a group of whites pour sugar, ketchup and mustard over the heads of Tougaloo College student demonstrators at a sit-in demonstration at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi. Seated at the counter, from left, are Tougaloo College professor John Hunter Gray (John R. Salter, Jr.) and students Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody. (Fred Blackwell/The Clarion-Ledger)
Excerpted directly from Tallahassee black community boycotts buses for desegregation, 1956-57, Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College

On May 27, 1956, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, two female students at all-black Florida A+M University in Tallahassee, Florida, paid their ten-cent fares and boarded a segregated city bus. They sat in seats normally occupied by white people, because the back of the bus, where black patrons were expected to sit, was very crowded. When the driver asked them to move, they refused, citing the standing-room only conditions of the back of the bus, and their own fatigue. They offered to leave if their fares were refunded. The driver refused, and had them arrested on the charges of trying to incite a riot.

Up to this point, race relations in Tallahassee had been relatively calm, especially in comparison to the rest of the Gulf Coast and Southern United States. Within the oppressive confines of segregation, Tallahassee lacked the conflict, struggle and polarity that characterized the environment of many other cities during segregation. This incident, and the actions that followed, marked an end to that calm.

Following the arrests, the police turned the girls’ charges over to Florida A+M campus security, which eventually dropped them. The Tallahassee Democrat, the local newspaper, reported on the incident, and included the girls’ home address in their account. Hours later, white community members burned a cross into the front yard of their home. The next morning, the student body president of Florida A+M, Broadus Hartley, held a mass meeting, and called for a campus-wide boycott of city buses until the end of the semester, a little less than two weeks away. For the next two days, teams of students blocked and boarded buses as they entered campus, and urged all of the black passengers to disembark. Most complied, but in a couple cases, most notably that of Reverend R. N. Webb, the students forced people to disembark, leading the State Board of Control to pressure Florida A+M staff into prohibiting students from boarding city buses.

On May 29, Reverend C.K. Steele, the acting president of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP, and Dr. James Hudson, the president of the Tallahassee Ministerial Alliance, held a general meeting to discuss action at Reverend Steele’s church. More than 500 people attended, and the boycott became a project of the entire black community, rather than campus specific. The group decided to form a special committee responsible for negotiations with city officials, called the Inter-Civic Council (ICC), and elected Steele as its chair. At the same time, an ICC-sponsored carpool was formed that allowed black workers, primarily black female maids, to get to work safely. The Montgomery Improvement Association, the ICC’s Alabama counterpart, made a $1,500 donation in support of the carpool. The NAACP also lent support, but in quiet ways, to ensure that the boycott was seen as a local movement.

On July 1, 1956, the bus company announced a total suspension of services, due to lack of revenue. This news caused the city commission to begin further cracking down on the boycott, specifically targeting the carpools, which were allowing the boycott to continue successfully. The city began categorizing carpools as commercial vehicles, and therefore requiring them to hold expensive commercial licensure tags. Police began randomly arresting African-American drivers, regardless of whether they were operating a carpool, or, as in many cases, simply transporting their family in their personal vehicle. In response, the ICC led the black community in boycotting white-owned businesses in Tallahassee’s downtown. In addition, the ICC began a massive voter registration drive, with the hopes of influencing the government itself.

Carrie Patterson and Wilhelmina Jakes (dates unknown). Credit: The Tallahassee Democrat., from Tallahassee Democrat

On October 27, 1956, the trial of the 22 carpool operators began. After three days, they were all found guilty, and fined a total of $11,000. The black community responded to this blatant attempt to bankrupt the ICC by redoubling their voter registration drive. Then, on Christmas Eve 1956, Reverend Steele, A.C. Reed, and H. McNeal Harris boarded a bus and sat in the white-only section together, in an effort to bring media attention and increased energy to the boycott. The ride was photographed by Life magazine bringing national, primarily negative attention to Steele and his cohort. Harassment increased, and white community members, many connected to the Ku Klux Klan directed gunfire, bricks, and bottles at Reverend Steele’s house on an almost daily basis. Other members of the boycott were also targeted. Florida Governor Leroy Collins stated his firm opposition to violence, and suspended all bus service in an effort to ease the tension.

By the end of January 1957, the boycott had ceased, though many African-Americans continued to individually choose not to ride the buses. After the city commission rescinded the segregated seating ordinance, the bus company phased out the segregated seating policy, ceasing to enforce it on primarily black routes, and only occasionally on more integrated routes. The move was done so quietly that it hardly received any media attention. Although this was not full desegregation, in light of Browder vs. Gayle, the district court ruling that struck down segregation on transportation and upheld by the Supreme Court, desegregation appeared somewhat imminent. As the national civil rights movement took shape, the Tallahassee bus boycott movement faded into the national strategy and goals. The ICC devoted its attention to other matters of civil rights, providing support, resources, and advocacy to the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee throughout the 1960s.

"Big Colored Parade" -- Market Street to City Hall, 1963-05-26, From The Civil Rights Movement in The Bay Area, The Bancroft Library
Watch an intro to Freedom March, a film focusing on the San Francisco protest march of May 26, 1963, sponsored by Bay Area Black churches and the labor movement in support of civil rights and the Birmingham Campaign against segregation led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This march was the first community wide, racially integrated march against racial segregation in the United States since the Civil War. Fifteen thousand people marched in response to a call by San Francisco religious groups and labor organizations. The film shows the march and the rally with the Rev. Bernard Lee of the SCLC and others. Speakers called for freedom in Birmingham and equality in San Francisco. Caption from Freedom March 1963 Video by Harvey Richards
Crowd at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles for the Freedom Rally, May 26, 1963.

May 25, 1964

Supreme Court Orders Prince Edward County to Reopen Schools After 5 Year Stint to Avoid Desegregation

Students in Farmville, Virginia protest the continued closure of Prince Edward County Public Schools, July 1963, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Excerpted in whole from 1964 May 25 Supreme Court Orders Virginia County to Reopen Public Schools, Today in Civil Liberties History

School board officials in Prince Edward County, Virginia, had closed the public schools on May 1, 1959, rather than integrate them in compliance with Brown v. Board of Education. In Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ordered the county to reopen public schools. The closure of the public schools for five years is referred to as “the lost years.”

The action by the Prince Edward County officials was only one of several anti-integration efforts by southern states under their policy of “massive resistance” to school integration. Other actions included the “Southern Manifesto,” in which 100 southern members of Congress on March 12, 1956 pledged to fight the Brown v. Board of Education decision on school integration; an Alabama law which would have forced the NAACP in the state to disclose its membership list, and thereby expose members to retaliation, but which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional on June 30, 1958 and established a First Amendment freedom of association; and a set of Virginia laws designed to limit legal advocacy by the NAACP, which Supreme Court declared unconstitutional on April 2, 1963.

No trespassing sign posted at Robert R. Moton High School, 1961. Prince Edward County closed their schools in 1959 to avoid forced desegregation.

The school closing episode left a lasting legacy for education and race in the county. The 2010 Census reported that the county population was 36 percent African-American. The public school population, however, was a majority African-American, while only 5 percent of the private schools, the legacy of the closing crisis, were African-American.

The Court: “There has been entirely too much deliberation and not enough speed in enforcing the constitutional rights which we held in Brown v. Board of Education, supra, had been denied Prince Edward County Negro children.”

And: “. . . we agree with the District Court that closing the Prince Edward schools and meanwhile contributing to the support of the private segregated white schools that took their place denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws.”

Site for documentary, They Closed Our Schools (not updated, please forward any information on how to see this film)

May 24, 1961

Freedom Riders Arrested Upon Arrival in Jackson, Mississippi - Secret Deal Between Robert Kennedy & Governor Eastland Trades Peace for Jail Time

Mug shots of Freedom Riders arrested on May 24, 1961, in Jackson, Mississippi, after arriving from Montgomery, Alabama. They were arrested after going into a whites-only waiting room and refusing to move on when asked to do so by police. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Members of the historic Freedom Ride on this day were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, the minute they got off the bus. The arrests were part of a secret deal arranged by Attorney General Robert Kennedy with Mississippi Senator James Eastland, in which Eastland would guarantee no violence in Jackson and the Freedom Riders would all be immediately arrested when they arrived there.

Kennedy, in short, sold out their legal right to travel free of discrimination in a trade for peace and quiet. He and his brother, President John F. Kennedy, were primarily concerned about violence that would embarrass the administration and the nation. For his part, Senator Eastland wanted to avoid the kind of racist violent attacks on the Freedom Riders that had occurred in Alabama.

The 1961 Freedom Ride challenging race discrimination in interstate bus travel, which began on May 4, 1961, was one of the iconic moments of the civil rights movement. When the freedom riders were viciously attacked in Alabama on May 14, 1961, the planners of the Freedom Ride cancelled the rest of the bus rides and flew to New Orleans.

Julia Aaron and David Dennis, along with 25 other freedom riders and several members of the National Guard, travelled from Montgomery, Ala., to Jackson, Mississippi. Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images, from Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders: Rare and Classic Photos
Freedom Riders preparing to board a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, May 24, 1961. Perry Aycock/AP Images

Student veterans of the sit-in movement in Nashville, however, refused to capitulate to violence and continued the bus rides. The people arrested on this day were part of the second wave of freedom rides.

Robert Kennedy admitted to and justified the deal in a 1964 interview that was published years later (see the reference below). This was one of several instances in which the Kennedy administration, despite its reputation for supporting the civil rights movement, in fact did not support it and in some instances (this one, for example) undercut it.

President Kennedy’s lack of support for the Freedom Ride is best indicated by his remarks on May 20, 1961 in which he drew a moral equivalence between the freedom riders and the racist vigilantes who were committing violence against them, asking both sides to back off.

The First Freedom Ride, the Journey of Reconciliation, began on April 9, 1947 and was confined to the states of the upper south. There were some minor incidents involving arrests but no violence occurred

Read Robert Kennedy’s Admission of the Secret Deal: Edwin O. Guthman and Jeffrey Shulman, eds., Robert Kennedy, In His Own Words: The Unpublished Recollections of the Kennedy Years (1988). [NOTE: These important and revealing interviews were conducted under an agreement that they would not be published for over twenty years.]

May 23, 1961

Freedom Rides to Continue On – Martin Luther King Declares: "The time is always right to do right."

On May 23, 1961, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right, tells reporters that the Freedom Rides will continue in Montgomery, Ala. John Lewis, left, appears with a bandaged head. (AP). From As Trump attacks John Lewis, here’s how freedom riders broke the chains of segregation, Washington Post.
Excerpted in whole from Bi-Racial Riders Decide to Go On, New York Times, May 24, 1961.


Dr. King Announces Plan — Move Arouses Concern in Alabama and Mississippi Bi-Racial Riders Decide to Resume Bus Trip Through South


Mississippi Forces Alerted — Dr. King Tells of Plan After 4-Hour Parley

MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 23 — Negroes reasserted today their determination to continue an anti-segregation "Freedom Ride" across Alabama and go into Mississippi and Louisiana.

"I'm sure that these students are willing to face death if necessary," the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said . "The ride will take place in the not-too-distant future. It is not far off."

Dr. King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other top Negro leaders in the integration movement made the announcement at a news conference here.

Student Group Meets

It followed a four-hour meeting with the bi-racial group of students who are challenging segregation on interstate buses and in terminal facilities.

Their announcement stirred renewed concern in this city of 136,000 person, where rioting greeted the arrival of the group last Saturday. After another outburst of mob violence Sunday night outside a Negro church, Gov. John Patterrson declared martial law in Montgomery.

Some 1,100 National Guardsmen in combat dress, some with fixed bayonets, patrolled the city streets tonight and stood guard at the bus, train and airport terminals. The city police and the state highway patrol also remained on the alert.

My only answer to that is the answer that I gave a few minutes ago. That it is not only impractical but it is immoral to urge people to accept injustices of oppression and and second-class citizenship in an attempt to wait until the so-called opportune time. The time is always right to do right. And we cannot wait, we cannot continue to accept these conditions of oppression in order to satisfy the whims and caprices of a few people who would say that this is hurting us in international affairs. The thing that is hurting us most is the continued existence of segregation and discrimination and we think we’re rendering a great service to our nation for this is not a struggle for ourselves alone, it is a struggle to save the soul of America.

~Martin Luther King, Jr, May 23, 1961,

Bi-Racial Riders Decide to Go On, New York Times, May 24, 1961, page 1 and 22, reformatted for this post. Click image read.
wsbn35045, Series of WSB-TV newsfilm clips of a press conference with comments by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about the Freedom Ride, Montgomery, Alabama, 1961 May 23, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0776, 58:02/59:16, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia..
Members of the American Nazi Party, including driver John Patler (second from left), pose with their “hate bus” in in Montgomery, Alabama, en route to New Orleans in May 1961. (Joe Scherschel/Life), from Photos of American Nazis driving a ‘hate bus’ through the Deep South, following Freedom Riders,

May 22, 1961

National Guard Patrol Streets While Freedom Riders Regroup in Montgomery, Alabama

Freedom riders tried to rest at the Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., as a white mob gathered outside. From Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders: Rare and Classic Photos, Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Tuesday, May 23 — National Guardsmen are enforcing an uneasy truce here under martial law following renewed racial violence. Bomb threats, two attempted house-burnings and minor incidents kept tension high in this first capital of the Old Confederacy in the wake of efforts to end segregation on interstate buses and in waiting rooms.

Some 1,800 pupils were evacuated from two unior high high schools after telephone bomb threats. Similar threats were received at the Greyhound bus station and radio station WAPX.

The police and firemen found no explosives.

Flaming "Molotov cocktails," bottles of gasoline stopperd with rags, were tossed at two homes yesterday but neither was damaged. One house was occupied by Negroes and the other by a white restaurant operator who was acquitted recently in a shotgun slaying of a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

White helmeted troops in green fatigues rolled through the streets in jeeps. Others with slung rifles stood watch at bus, train and airport terminals.

One hundred additional National Guardsmen were called to the Greyhound bus terminal late last night. It was fear there might be trouble with several buses scheduled to arrive close together. There was no incident, and the men were ordered to return to their posts.

A spokesman at the terminal reported that Business was being conducted as usual.

Some 550 deputy Federal marshals were held in readiness at Maxwell Air Force Base within the city. Two hundred more were rushing here on orders from Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General.

The local police and the state highway patrol were also on the alert. Concern was expressed over reports that Negro and white "Freedom Riders" would renew their efforts to carry the anti-segregation drive on across Alabama and into Mississippi and Louisiana.

Read full story

National Guard Soldiers Patrol Near Alabama Church, Worshippers at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama watch as National Guard troops patrol outside on May 22, 1961. Federal marshals were sent into the city by President Kennedy after attacks on the Freedom Riders. Caption in whole from Getty Images
Cover photo, "Freedom riders, along with Martin Luther King Jr., relaxed at a safe house in Montgomery, Ala." from LIFE Magazine. Scroll through to view.
May 22, 1961: Alabama National Guardsman are also stationed at Montgomery bus station. AP photo.
Interview with Diane Nash, leader of the Nashville Nonviolent Movement, New York Times, May 23, 1961.
Read about Freedom Rider, David Dennis, Sr. as he recounts to his son, David Dennis, Jr the meeting on May 22, 1961 when Martin Luther King and and about 30 youth activists met to discuss the future of the Freedom Rides, A Freedom Rider recalls Martin Luther King Jr. and the complex ride to civil rights

May 21, 1961

Martial Law Declared in Montgomery, Alabama as Protests and Police Actions Erupt After Freedom Bus Riders Attacked

On the evening of May 21 1961, more than 1,000 Black residents and civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth attended a service at Montgomery's First Baptist Church. The service, organized by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, was planned to support an interracial group of civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders. As the service took place, a white mob surrounded the church and vandalized parked cars.

The Freedom Riders began riding interstate buses in 1961 to test Supreme Court decisions that prohibited discrimination in interstate passenger travel. Their efforts were unpopular with white Southerners who supported continued segregation, and they faced violent attacks in several places along their journey. The day before the Montgomery church service, the Riders had arrived in Montgomery and faced a brutal attack at the hands of hundreds of white people armed with bats, hammers, and pipes. The May 21 service was planned by the local Black community to express support and solidarity.

As the surrounding mob grew larger and more violent, Dr. King called U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy from the church's basement and requested help. Kennedy sent U.S. Marshals to dispel the riot; the growing mob pelted them with bricks and bottles and the marshals responded with tear gas.

When police arrived to assist the marshals, the mob broke into smaller groups and overturned cars, attacked Black homes with bullets and firebombs, and assaulted Black people in the streets. Alabama Governor John Patterson declared martial law in Montgomery and ordered National Guard troops to restore order.

New York Times, May 22, 1961, reformatted for this post. Click image to enlarge.

Authorities arrested 17 white rioters and, by midnight, the streets were calm enough for those in the church to leave. Three days later, troops escorted the Freedom Riders as they departed to Jackson, Mississippi, where they would face further resistance.

May 20, 1961

Freedom Riders Brutally Beaten in Montgomery, Alabama

Excerpted in whole from May 20, 1961–White Mob Attacks Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, Equal Justice Initiative

On May 20, 1961, 19 Freedom Riders traveling by bus through the South to challenge segregation laws were brutally attacked by a white mob at the Montgomery, Alabama, downtown Greyhound Station.

Several days before, on May 16, the Riders faced mob violence in Birmingham so serious that it threatened to prematurely end their campaign. The Freedom Riders were initially organized by the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), but after the Birmingham attacks, an interracial group of 22 Tennessee college students, known as the Nashville Student Movement, volunteered to take over and continue the ride through Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans.

These new Freedom Riders reached Birmingham on May 17, but were immediately arrested and returned to Tennessee by Birmingham police. Undeterred, the Riders and additional reinforcements from Tennessee returned to Birmingham on May 18. Under pressure from the federal government, Alabama Governor John Patterson agreed to authorize state and city police to protect the Riders during their journey from Birmingham to Montgomery.

At Montgomery city limits, state police abandoned the Riders' bus; the Riders continued to the bus station unescorted and found no police protection waiting when they arrived. Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner L.B. Sullivan had promised the Ku Klux Klan several minutes to attack the Riders without police interference and, upon arrival, the Riders were met by a mob of several hundred angry white people armed with baseball bats, hammers, and pipes.

Montgomery police watched as the mob first attacked reporters and then turned on the Riders. Several were seriously injured, including a white college student named Jim Zwerg and future U.S. Congressman John Lewis. John Seigenthaler, an aide to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was knocked unconscious. Ignored by ambulances, two injured Riders were saved by good samaritans who transported them to nearby hospitals.

John Lewis and Jim Zwerg after they were attacked by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama, May 20, 1961. The typed caption from the unknown press photographer reads: Montgomery, Ala., May 20—‘FREEDOM RIDERS’ BEATEN—Jim Swerg, right, removes teeth which were knocked out by a mob which set upon him and the others of the “freedom riders” after they arrived in Montgomery today. At left is Paul Brooks, another of the riders. (AP Wirephoto) Note: John Lewis is incorrectly identified in the typed caption.
FromThe High Museum of Art
Excerpt featuring the events of May 20, from Freedom Riders, American Experience, PBS
Jim Zwerg recounts joining the Civil Rights Movement after his first encounter with segregation. 7/28/13, by George Walker IV. From Jim Zwerg: Nashville's accidental civil rights advocate, The Tennessean, March 2, 2017

May 19, 1965

"Bloody Wednesday" in Bogalusa, Louisiana as Whites Attack Desegregation Protest, Sparking Weeks of Violence Against Civil Rights Activits

Excerpted in whole from Civil rights marchers met with violence in Bogalusa 50 years ago, The Times-Picayune, May 17, 2015

Civil rights demonstrations were met with violence a half-century ago in the Washington Parish city of Bogalusa. One of the focal points of the unrest was Cassidy Park, which activists were attempting to integrate.

Police and FBI officials had gathered at another park on May 19, 1965, according to a story in The Times-Picayune, in anticipation of a confrontation there, so they scrambled to respond to Cassidy Park.

Robert Hicks, the leader of the civil rights group leading the desegregation effort at Cassidy Park, said white men attacked women and children with clubs, belts and sticks. The injured activists were taken to New Orleans for medical treatment because they could not get it in Bogalusa, Hicks said.

The following day, Terry Friedman, a photographer for The Times-Picayune traveled to the park with a former reporter from the paper in anticipation of another confrontation. They were met by "a gang of white youths," according to a story on the incident, and the young men attacked Friedman.

"One of Friedman's cameras was snatched from him, and the photographer began chasing the youth who had taken the piece of equipment," The Times-Picayune wrote. "Most of the group congregated around the two, then began chasing Friedman."

The former reporter, Tommy Frazer, reported the attack to Bogalusa police stationed at the park, he told the newspaper, but they were slow to act. "They were watching all the time, grinning," he said.

State Police escorted the two journalists as they drove their car out of Bogalusa, leaving them on their own shortly after leaving the city limits.

"A few minutes later, Friedman and Frazier noticed a late-model brown automobile with a Confederate flag license tag on the front following at a high rate of speed," the paper wrote.

"It passed the photographer's car, and one of the two occupants waved what appeared to be an automatic pistol. After a mile or two, it stopped and turned around, heading back to Bogalusa."

No photographs of the incident are Cassidy Park are believed to exist; the attackers broke some of Friedman's camera equipment and threw it into a nearby creek.

The next week, the city ordered the park closed because of the violence. But that did not put an end to the unrest in Washington Parish.

Late at night on June 2, 1965, the first two black sheriff's deputies hired in Washington Parish were riding in a car in Varnado, a small town just north of Bogalusa. They had been on the job for just over a year.

A pickup truck with a Confederate flag on the front bumper pulled close to the lawmen's car. One deputy, Creed Rogers, was hit in the face by shotgun pellets. He was blinded in one eye. His partner, Deputy Oneal Moore, was killed by a shot to the back of the head.

"We're going to catch them," Gov. John McKeithen said days later in offering a reward for the capture and conviction of the gunmen. "We're going to catch them all."

Fifty years later, the crime remains unsolved.

Bogalusa Attack is Laid to Police, New York Times, page 29, May 20, 1965. Reformatted for this post.
Hicks and the young Brothers lead the 105 mile, 10-day Civil Rights March from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge; Louisiana State Capital in 1967. Read more about Robert "Bob" Hicks and the Bogalusa Deacons for Defense and Justice at the Robert Hicks Foundation and at Wikipedia

May 18, 1964

11,000 Black Students Boycott Milwaukee Schools in Protest of the Lack of Progress in 10 Years Since the Brown v Board of Education Decision

Excerpted in whole from Lesson 3: Milwaukee School Boycott, May 18, 1964, March on Milsaukee, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring racial segregation illegal, a 1960 survey of Milwaukee schools found that schools in the central city were 90 percent Black. In March 1964, community activists, including attorney Lloyd Barbee, Milwaukee Common Council member Vel Phillips, and Father James Groppi organized the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC).

Parents were distressed by the vast differences in quality between majority Black and majority white schools. Another point of contention was “intact busing,” or transporting African American students to all-white schools but keeping them in segregated classrooms, cafeterias, and activities. Many Black children were also tracked into vocational classes instead of business or college prep classes.

In 1964, MUSIC organized a one-day boycott of predominantly Black schools for May 18, the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. Instead of going to school, students attended Freedom Schools, where they learned about segregation, racism, and discrimination.

Freedom Day school withdrawal : Mon. May 18th, 1964, This poster was created to promote the boycott of Milwaukee Public Schools and encourage attendance at temporary, alternative schools known as freedom schools.

The majority of Milwaukee’s Black, inner-city school population (11,000 or roughly 60 percent) stayed out of school, and about 8,500 attended the Freedom Schools.

In October 1965, after seeing few significant changes, MUSIC organized a three-day boycott. By then, Barbee had filed a lawsuit charging the Milwaukee School Board with practicing discrimination, and the issue was tied up in the courts. Milwaukee’s civil rights leaders shifted focus to fair housing and other equal opportunity issues.

May 17, 1954

US Supreme Court Bans School Segregation in Brown v Board of Education, Sparking Years of White Resistance

May 1954: Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sit on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, after the high court's ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Bettmann / Corbis

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation in public education was unconstitutional, overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine in place since 1896, and sparking massive resistance among white Americans committed to racial inequality.

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education grew out of several cases challenging racial segregation in school districts across America, filed as part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's strategy to bar the practice nationwide. In the named case, a Black man named Oliver Brown sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education for refusing to allow his daughter, Linda, to attend the elementary school nearest her house solely due to her race.

When the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall argued that segregated schools were harmful and saddled Black children with feelings of inferiority. Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren endorsed this argument and declared that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

The decision outraged white segregationists as much as it energized civil rights activists. Throughout the South, where state constitutions and state law mandated segregated schools, white people decried the decision as a tyrannical exercise of federal power. Many Southern white leaders and their constituents implemented a strategy of "massive resistance" to delay desegregation. These groups made up of elected officials, business leaders, community residents, and parents deployed a range of tactics and weapons against the growing movement for civil rights—including bombing and murdering civil rights activists, criminalizing peaceful protest, and wielding economic intimidation and threats to chill Black participation in civil rights activities.

These tactics worked: By 1960, only 98 of Arkansas’s 104,000 Black students attended desegregated schools, as did 34 of 302,000 in North Carolina, 169 of 146,000 in Tennessee, and 103 of 203,000 in Virginia. In the five Deep South states, every single one of 1.4 million Black schoolchildren attended segregated schools until the fall of 1960. By the start of the 1964-65 school year, less than 3% of the South’s African American children attended school with white students, and in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina that number remained substantially below 1%.

The Brown decision signaled the start of a massive cultural shift in racial dynamics in the U.S., and also launched an organized mass movement of opposition. Most white Americans, especially in the South, supported segregation.

May 17, 1957

25,000 Mark 3-Years Since Brown v Board in Washington, DC “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom”

Photo of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, May 17, 1957. From the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, Yale University Art Gallery, by Lee Friedlander, See A Young Lee Friedlander Captured a Civil Rights Milestone, SLATE.

The “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom” was the first of three African-American marches on Washington to commemorate the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, 1954 declaring racially segregated schools unconstitutional.

An estimated 25,000 people came to Washington, D.C., on this day, the third anniversary of Brown v Board of Education (May 17, 1954), to demand civil rights for African-Americans. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech entitled “Give Us the Ballot,” indicating a new civil rights campaign.

Two subsequent civil rights marches commemorating the Brown decision, which are also largely forgotten, occurred on October 25, 1958, and April 18, 1959. All three have been overshadowed by the famous 1963 March on Washington (August 28, 1963), where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

In the first African-American march on Washington, 5,000 people conducted a silent march in front of the White House and the U.S. Senate building on June 22, 1922 to protest lynching and to call for a federal anti-lynching law. The first federal anti-lynching bill had been introduced in April 1, 1918.

Photo of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, May 17, 1957. From the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, Yale University Art Gallery, by Lee Friedlander,
Excerpt from Martin Luther King's "Give us the ballot' speech, May 17, 1957 on The Mall in Washington,

May 16, 1956

Floridians Burn Cross and Stockpile Weapons to Maintain “Whites-Only” Beach

On May 16, 1956, white residents of Delray Beach, Florida, burned a cross to terrorize Black residents and prevent them from using the city’s “public” beach that had been open to only white visitors for decades.

The day before this racial violence, U.S. District Judge Emmett C. Choate had dismissed a federal civil rights lawsuit in which nine Black Delray residents had sued for access to Delray’s municipal beach. Though Black citizens had been barred by terrorism and de facto segregation for decades, the Delray Beach City Commission tried to avoid federal intervention by informing the court that the city had no written policy denying Black residents access to the beach. In dismissing the lawsuit on this basis, Judge Choate expressly recognized that the city was legally authorized to continue practicing segregation, and recommended that the commission segregate portions of the beach by race.

Concerned that the commission’s statement denying a formal segregation policy threatened to weaken years of rigidly enforced, race-based exclusion, white citizens decided to take violent action to let Black residents know they were still unwelcome. After white residents burned a cross to send that message, local law enforcement declined to investigate or to hold white citizens accountable. On May 20, a group of Black residents attempted to gain access to the beach, only to be forced out by an angry gathering of 70 white people demanding they leave. Over the next several days, white citizens began stockpiling weapons from stores in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, anticipating the return of Black beachgoers and preparing to respond with lethal violence.

On May 23, the city commission enacted a formal segregation ordinance that codified years of de facto segregation and barred Black residents from using the Delray municipal beach or pool. Within three weeks of the city’s enactment, three neighboring beachfront towns—Riviera Beach, Lake Worth, and Daytona Beach—had adopted identical segregation ordinances.

Over the next month, the Delray Beach City Commission attempted to get Black leaders in the Delray Civic League to “cooperate” in keeping their fellow Black residents off the municipal beach. The city initially proposed the construction of a separate and unequal beach for Black residents on a 100-foot strip of rocky land. Black leaders rejected this proposal, demanding access to city facilities on equal terms with white citizens. The Civic League requested a 500-foot section of beach and the immediate construction of a pool for Black residents.

In July, the city finally agreed to construct a swimming pool for Black residents, but conditioned the pool’s construction on continued exclusion of Black residents from the municipal beach. The city repealed the segregation ordinance, returning to its decades-long policy of de facto segregation, and subsequently abandoned all plans to construct a beach for Black residents.

To learn more about the state-sanctioned exclusion of Black citizens from public facilities such as beaches, pools, and public parks, read EJI’s report, Segregation in America.

SeeTeen’s drowning echoes through city’s civil rights history, Coastal Star, which included eyewitness accounts of events sparked by the drowning of a Black youth in an unguarded section of oceanfront in Delray Beach , May 13, 1956.
Clipping from The Index-Journal, Greenwood, South Carolina, 21 May 1956.

May 15, 1970

Mississippi Police Fire on Protesting Students at Jackson State College, Killing Two

Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, a Jackson State prelaw major, and James Earl Green, a local high school student, were shot to death by police, May 15, 1970. Click image for similar story via the Equal Justice Initiative.
Excerpted in whole from The Jackson State Killings, 1970,

The Jackson State Killings took place at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) on May 15, 1970, in Jackson, Mississippi. Around midnight on May 14, city and state police confronted a group of students and opened fire on them, killing two students and injuring twelve. The Jackson State Killings occurred eleven days after the more widely publicized Kent State University Shootings in Kent, Ohio.

On May 14, 1970, around 9:30 pm, a group of African American high school and college students gathered just off campus and began rioting in response to a false rumor that Fayette, Mississippi mayor Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and his wife, Nannie Evers, were assassinated. Several white motorists called Jackson Police Department to complain about the African-American rioters throwing rocks at them as they drove by the campus on Lynch Street. The young protesters also started fires and overturned a dump truck.

Seventy-five policeman and Mississippi State Police officers arrived to control the crowd. At around 12:05 a.m. on May 15, 1970, the police opened fire on the crowd, and twenty-one-year-old Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and seventeen-year-old James Earl Green were killed. Gibbs was a junior pre-law major at Jackson State and father of an eighteen-month-old son; Green was a senior at Jim Hill High School in Jackson.

The reasons behind the police opening fire on the students continue to be disputed. Some students said the police issued a warning that they would shoot unless the crowd dispersed. When the protesters did not leave, they opened fire. However, others contended that the police abruptly opened fire on the crowd and on Alexander West Hall, a Jackson State dormitory, directly behind the students. Police claimed they shot at the dormitory because they spotted a powder flare on the third floor of the building and thus fired on the dormitory in self-defense.

On June 13, 1970, the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest was created by President Richard Nixon to investigate the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State. The commission held its first meeting on June 25, 1970 in Washington, D.C. and then conducted public hearings in Jackson, Mississippi, Kent Ohio, and Los Angeles, California for thirteen days. During the hearings, the administration, faculty, staff, and students testified, along with police and National Guard officials. Although the commission criticized both police in Jackson and National Guard commanders in Ohio, no arrests were made in either incident.

The Jackson City Council voted to close Lynch Street. The Gibbs-Green Plaza was constructed Alexander West Hall Center. The Gibbs-Green Monument, a permanent memorial to the slain students, is located in the plaza.

Gibbs/Green Tragedy at Jackson State University. produced byJackson State University. For more information about this film call the JSU Office of Communications at 601-979-2272. As posted on on May 15, 1970 Mississippi Police Open Fire on Protesting Jackson State College Students, Killing Two, Equal Justice Initiative
Mayor Charles Evers, of Fayette, Miss., a civil rights leader, talks with students outside the bullet-riddled women's dormitory at Jackson State College, in Jackson, Miss., where Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, a Jackson State prelaw major, and James Earl Green, a local high school student, were shot to death by police, May 15, 1970. Windows on all five floors of the dormitory were shattered by the gunfire. Twelve others were injured. AP file photo. From 1970 shooting at Jackson State: Gibbs, Green families, scenes from 50 years ago, Clarion Ledger
Tom Hayden, civil rights activist , describes the events of May 14 & 15, 1965, March 24, 2011. See high school student interview with Hayden, Telling Their Stories: Oral History Archives Project.
Plaque at Jackson State University commemorating the killings of Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green, just after midnight on May 15, 1970. Photo by Howard Levin

May 14, 1961

Freedom Riders Attacked in Separate Incidences in Alabama – Bus Firebombed in Anniston as Passengers Narrowly Escape – Riders Beaten in Birmingham

Greyhound bus burns in Anniston, Alabama soon after a pipebomb was thrown through a broken window. Passengers narrowly escaped. Bettman Archives, Getty Images
Excerpted in whole from Freedom Riders Attacked in Anniston, Alabama, Equal Justice Initiative

In 1961, a group of civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders began a desegregation campaign. The interracial group rode together on interstate buses headed south from Washington, D.C., and patronized the bus stations along the way, to test the enforcement of Supreme Court decisions that prohibited discrimination in interstate passenger travel. Their efforts were unpopular with white Southerners who supported segregation. The group encountered early violence in South Carolina but continued their trip toward the planned destination of New Orleans.

On Mother's Day, May 14, 1961, a Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders arrived at the Anniston, Alabama, bus station shortly after 1:00 pm to find the building locked shut. Led by Ku Klux Klan leader William Chapel, a mob of 50 men armed with pipes, chains, and bats, smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the Riders' bus. Though warned hours earlier that a mob had gathered at the station, local police did not arrive until after the assault had begun.

Once the attack subsided, police pretended to escort the crippled bus to safety, but instead abandoned it at the Anniston city limits. Soon after the police departed, another armed white mob surrounded the bus and began breaking windows. The Freedom Riders refused to exit the vehicle but received no aid from two watching highway patrolmen. When a member of the mob tossed a firebomb through a broken bus window, others in the mob attempted to trap the passengers inside the burning vehicle by barricading the door. They fled when the fuel tank began to explode. The Riders were able to escape the ensuing flames and smoke through the bus windows and main door, only to be attacked and beaten by the mob outside.

After police finally dispersed their attackers, the Freedom Riders received limited medical care. They were soon evacuated from Anniston in a convoy organized by Birmingham Civil Rights leader, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

Burning Greyhound bus, by Joseph Postiglione on May 14, 1961.
Photo from exhibition Courage Under Fire: The 1961 Burning of the Freedom Rider’s Bus, by Joseph Postiglione on May 14, 1961.
Freedom Riders Jimmy McDonald (right) and James Peck (center) talk to reporter Bill Cook (left) upon their arrival in New Orleans. Peck had been beaten by pro-segregationists in the Birmingham Bus Station during a Freedom Rider demonstration on March 14, 1961. Getty Images.
Excerpted in whole from 1961 May 14 – Jim Peck, Freedom Rider, Assaulted in Alabama, Today in Civil Liberties History

Civil rights activist and pacifist Jim Peck was a participant in the 1961 Freedom Ride to desegregate bus travel in the deep south (May 4, 1961). On this day, he was brutally assaulted by members of a racist mob when he stepped off the bus in Birmingham, Alabama. (See the separate event on this day, May 14, 1961, for the attacks on the Freedom Riders in Anniston, Alabama, and the burning of the bus they were riding.)

Peck needed 53 stitches in his head. He was initially denied treatment at Carraway Methodist Medical Center, a white segregated hospital, and was finally treated at Jefferson Hillman Hospital. The FBI, though an undercover informant, had advance knowledge of the planned attacks, but did nothing to stop them. In Birmingham, the attacks were abetted by Police Chief “Bull” Connor, who became notorious for his role in the major civil rights demonstrations in that city (see May 3, 1963 for the incident involving the use of fire hoses and police dogs against civil rights demonstrators).

In 1983, Peck was awarded $25,000 in damages from the FBI after it was revealed that the FBI knew of plans for the attack in Anniston but did nothing to stop it (December 9, 1983).

In 1947, Peck had been arrested in first freedom ride, the Journey of Reconciliation, which began on April 9, 1947.

An interview with Jim Peck after his beating in Birmingham, excerpt from the documentary series From Eyes on the Prize, Ain't Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961), PBS, 2min
Excerpt below from a personal account of his beating by James Peck, editor of CORE's newsletter, the CORE-LATOR.

Violence in Birmingham

Upon arrival in Birmingham, a mob was gathered outside the bus station. Charles Person and I entered the "white" waiting room. We were grabbed bodily and pushed toward the street exit. As soon as we reached the alleyway leading to the exit and were out of sight of persons in the waiting room, six of the mob assaulted me with fists and lead pipe. Five others attacked Person.

Next, they -attacked Tom Langston of the Birmingham Post-Herald and smashed his camera. Langston had been sufficiently quick-witted to remove his film and the photo of my beating, clearly showing the angry faces of the assailants, appeared in next morning's Post-Herald.

Then, Clancy Lake, a radio newsman, was attacked as he sat in his car broadcasting an account of the onslaught. An ambulance took me to a hospital where 53 stitches were sewed into my head and face. Not a single uniformed policeman was on hand at the Birmingham terminal at the time. Police Chief Eugene "Bull" Connor later explained that since it was Mothers' Day, many were off duty.

May 13, 1966

Role of White Women in the Civil Rights Movement Highlighted and Generates Controversy in Report by Prominent Psychiatrist

Undated photo from the Freedom Rides of 1961.

A report, “Stresses of the White Female Worker in the Civil Rights Movement,” by the prominent psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, MD, was delivered at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting on this day.

The issue of the role of women in Civil Rights Movement, including all women regardless of race, had first surfaced at a SNCC staff meeting in 1964, exposing tensions over the second-class treatment of women in the movement.

Many historians argue that the conflicts within the civil rights movement were one of the sources of the rebirth of the women’s movement in the mid-1960s.

Important women in the southern civil rights movement include Rosa Parks, who initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955; Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Ella Baker, who encouraged sit-in leaders to organize SNCC in 1960; and Daisy Bates, leader of the school integration movement in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Access full report, "Stresses of the White Female Worker in the Civil Rights Movement,” by Alvin Poussaint, MD,

May 12, 1963

President Kennedy Sends Federal Troops Back Into Birmingham, Alabama After Rioting and Bombings

US Sends Troops Into Alabama After Riots Sweep Birmingham, New York Times, May 13, 1963, reformatted for this post.




President Appeals for Peace and Vows to Keep Order U.S. Sends Troops Into Alabama After Rioting and Bombings Sweep Birmingham


Calls Out Specially Trained Units—Voices Hope They Will Not Have to Act

WASHINGTON, May 12—President Kennedy tonight dispatched Federal troops to bases near Birmingham, Ala., for use if racial violence breaks out again.

His action followed three hours of rioting early this morning in which 50 persons were injured. The rioting erupted after two buildings were bombed.

The President also ordered all "necessary preliminary steps" be taken to call the Alabama National Guard into Federal service. The actual call can then be accomplished in minutes if the President decides it is needed.

[Air Force C-47 transports with troops and equipment began arriving at Maxwell Air Base, about 80 miles south of Birmingham, within an hour after the President announced the move, United Press International reported. It said 10 transports had arrived by 12 :45 A.M. Monday, New York time, and other troops were moving into Fort McClellan, 40 miles east of Birmingham.]

Confers With McNamara

The President made known these emergency moves at the White House tonight. He appeared before the press and television cameras at 8:48 P.M. to read a grave statement on the Birmingham crisis. The President declared:

"This Government will do whatever must be done to preserve order, to protect the lives of its citizens and to uphold the law of the land. I am certain that the vast majority of the citizens of Birmingham, both, vhite and Negro—particularly those who labored so hard to achieve the peaceful, constructive settlement of last week—can feel nothing but dismay at the efforts of those who would replace conciliation and good will with violence and hate."

Read full article

Draft of President John F. Kennedy's statement on situation in Birmingham, Alabama, National Archives. The text below was transcribed from John F. Kennedy's handwritten notes.
Draft of President John F. Kennedy's statement on situation in Birmingham, Alabama, National Archives.

I am deeply concerned about the events which occurred in Birmingham, Ala. last night. The home of Reverend A.D. King was bombed and badly damaged; shortly thereafter the A.G. Gaston Motel was also bombed. These occurrences were followed by crowds, rioting, injury to a number of persons, and considerable property damage.

I am particularly distressed that these events should take place immediately following the Birmingham Agreement which promises so much progress for the Negros of that city in the realization of their just demands for equal treatment and opportunity. One of the great moral issues of our time is the achievement of equal opportunity for all citizens. Too long have Negros been denied fair treatment and equal opportunity in all parts of our land. It is increasingly clear that this injustice will no longer be tolerated by them as it should not be tolerated by any American.

These are not problems of Birmingham, the South or Negroes. They are problems which must concern all of us and to which all of us have a moral obligation to put right.

Last week the citizens of Birmingham forced us to that obligation. All of us should be grateful to them for doing so.

Nothing should be tolerated now that jeopardize the progress then made and the agreement to be carried out.

There are extremists who wish to see this agreement fail and will do what they can to achieve this end–by striking at night by inflaming emotions and by inciting or inviting violence.

The federal government stands behind this agreement. Not only the people of Birmingham but the people of the nation are the beneficiaries of this agreement. The federal government will not stand by and permit a few to sabotage it. In view of last night’s events in Birmingham I have taken the following action:

Assistant Deputy Attorney General Joseph F. Dolan and other Justice Department officials returned to Birmingham early this afternoon to consult with local citizens and assess the situation.

Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshal is returning to Birmingham this evening.

I have instructed Secretary of Defense McNamara to alert units of the Armed Forces trained in riot control and to dispatch selected units to military bases in the vicinity of Birmingham.

WSB-TV newsfilm clip of John F. Kennedy speaking at a press conference about civil rights demonstrations and the federal government's support and protection in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963 May 12, WSB-TV. Full text from the Civil Rights Digital Library

In this WSB newsfilm clip from a news conference on May 12, 1963 President John F. Kennedy urges Birmingham, Alabama residents to practice nonviolence and pledges the federal government's support and protection; he later asks Birmingham citizens to recognize and support the agreement reached by negotiators on May 10 that, to that point, had appeased civil demonstrations.

He advises the public "to realize that violence only breeds more violence" and warns "there must be no repetition of last night's incidents by any group."

President Kennedy emphasizes the government's role "to preserve order, to protect the lives of its citizens, and to uphold the law of the land," and condemns those who "would replace conciliation and good will with violence and hate."

After mass civil rights demonstrations led by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in April and May of 1963, black and white negotiators reached an accord on May 10 that ended demonstrations.

On May 11, the A.G. Gaston Motel and the home of Dr. Martin Luther King's brother, Reverend A. D. King, were both bombed. King and other SCLC leaders frequented the Gaston Motel when in Birmingham; businessman A. G. Gaston often provided them with complimentary office space.

The bombings sparked riots by African Americans in a twenty-eight-block section of Birmingham. Local police officers and state troopers responding to the crisis beat rioters and bystanders, injuring over fifty people. In response to the violence, Kennedy issued the aforementioned statement, readied troops for riot control, and federalized the Alabama National Guard.

May 11, 1963

Bombs Spark Riots One Day After Settlements Promising Desegregation in Birmingham, Alabama

Bombs Touch Off Widespread Riot at Birmingham, New York Times, May 12, 1963
A young man is seen brandishing a knife, left, during a riot following bombings at the A.G. Gaston Motel and the house of A.D. King in this May 11, 1963 photo by Norman Dean.
The Sunday May 12, 1963 front page of The Birmingham News.

May 10, 1963

The Birmingham Truce Agreement Signed Promising Desegregated Facilities – Sparks Bombing and Riots For Days After

From the Southern Christian Leadership Newsletter, July, 1963, reformatted for this post.
Excerpted in parts from Birmingham riot of 1963, Wikipedia

On May 10, 1963, negotiators for the city (of Birmingham, Alabama), local businesses, and the civil rights campaign had completed and announced the "Birmingham Truce Agreement." The agreement included city and business commitments for partial desegregation (of fitting rooms, water fountains, and lunch counters in retail stores), promises of economic advancement for African-American workers, release of persons who had been arrested in demonstrations, and the formation of a Committee on Racial Problems and Employment.

In an afternoon press conference held at the Gaston Motel, where King and his team were staying, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth read a version of the agreement, after which King declared a "great victory" and prepared to leave town.

However, some white leaders, including the city's powerful Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, who had used dogs and firehoses against demonstrators, denounced the agreement and suggested that they might not enforce its provisions.

(Beginning the next day), the Birmingham riot of 1963 was a civil disorder in Birmingham, Alabama, that was provoked by bombings on the night of May 11, 1963. The bombings targeted African-American leaders of the Birmingham campaign, a mass protest for racial justice. The places bombed were the parsonage of Rev. A. D. King, brother of Martin Luther King Jr., and a motel owned by A. G. Gaston, where King and others organizing the campaign had stayed. It is believed that the bombings were carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in cooperation with Birmingham police. In response, local African-Americans burned businesses and fought police throughout the downtown area.

From the Southern Christian Leadership Newsletter, July, 1963, reformatted for this post.

Bomb wreckage near Gaston Motel, May 11, 1963.

May 9, 1961

Freedom Riders Attacked While Entering White Only Waiting Room in Rock Hill, South Carolina

On May 9, 1961, 21-year-old John Lewis, a young Black civil rights activist, was severely beaten by a mob at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, Greyhound bus terminal. A few days earlier, Mr. Lewis and 12 Freedom Riders—seven Black and six white—had left Washington, D.C., on a Greyhound bus headed to New Orleans. They sat interracially on the bus, planning to test a Supreme Court ruling that made segregation in interstate transportation illegal.

The Freedom Riders rode safely through Virginia and North Carolina, but experienced violence when they stopped at the bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and tried to enter the white waiting room together. John Lewis and two other Riders were brutally attacked before a white police officer, who had been present the entire time, finally intervened. The Freedom Riders responded with nonviolence and decided not to press charges, continuing their protest ride further south where they experienced continued violence from white mobs in Alabama.

Nearly 47 years later, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols apologized to John Lewis, by then a U.S. Congressman representing Georgia. In 2009, one of his attackers, former Klansman Elwin Wilson, also apologized. "I don't hold the town any more responsible than those men who beat us," Congressman Lewis has said about the community of Rock Hill, "and I saw those men as victims of the same system of segregation and hatred."

Location of the attack at the white only waiting room in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Photo by Getty Images

Elwin Wilson attacked John Lewis at the South Carolina bus station on May 9, 1961. Years later the two met on"Good Morning America."

May 8, 1963

President Kennedy Announces Truce Negotiated with Civil Rights Leaders and Leaders in Birmingham, Alabama

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy were the faces of leadership in the civil rights demonstrations of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. (File/The Birmingham News)
Excerpted from News Conference 55, May 8, 1963 President John F. Kennedy , State Department Auditorium, Washington, D.C., May 8, 1963 (reporters questions and answers specific to the situation in Birmingham, Alabama are included below. Not included are other topics covered in the press conference)


President John F. Kennedy
State Department Auditorium
Washington, D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I am gratified to note the progress in the efforts by white and Negro citizens to end an ugly situation in Birmingham, Alabama. I have made it clear since assuming the Presidency that I would use all available means to protect human rights, and uphold the law of the land. Through mediation and persuasion and, where that effort has failed, through lawsuits and court actions, we have attempted to meet our responsibilities in this most difficult field where Federal court orders have been circumvented, ignored, or violated. We have committed all of the power of the Federal Government to insure respect and obedience of court decisions, and the law of the land.

In the City of Birmingham, the Department of Justice some time ago instituted an investigation into voting discrimination. It supported in the Supreme Court an attack on the city's segregation ordinances. We have, in addition, been watching the present controversy, to detect any violation of the Federal civil rights or other statutes. In the absence of such violation or any other Federal jurisdiction, our efforts have been focused on getting both sides together to settle in a peaceful fashion the very real abuses too long inflicted on the Negro citizens of that community.

Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall, representing the Attorney General and myself on the scene, has made every possible effort to halt a spectacle which was seriously damaging the reputation of both Birmingham and the country. Today, as the result of responsible efforts on the part of both white and Negro leaders over the last 72 hours, the business community of Birmingham has responded in a constructive and commendable fashion and pledged that substantial steps would begin to meet the justifiable needs of the Negro community.

Negro leaders have announced suspension of their demonstrations, and when the newly elected Mayor who has indicated his desire to resolve these problems takes office, the City of Birmingham has committed itself wholeheartedly to continuing progress in this area.

While much remains to be settled before the situation can be termed satisfactory, we can hope that tensions will ease and that this case history which has so far only narrowly avoided widespread violence and fatalities will remind every State, every community, and every citizen how urgent it is that all bars to equal opportunity and treatment be removed as promptly as possible.

I urge the local leaders of Birmingham, both white and Negro, to continue their constructive and cooperative efforts.

QUESTION: Mr. President, against the background or possibility of similar trouble developing in other Southern towns, I wonder if you could tell us how you regard the techniques that were used over the last few days in Birmingham by either side, dogs and fire hoses used by one side, and the use of school children and protest marchers by the other side?

THE PRESIDENT: I think what we are interested in now is seeing the situation peacefully settled in the next 12, 24 hours. I think all of our statements should be devoted to that end. Quite obviously, as my remarks indicated, the situation in Birmingham was damaging the reputation of Birmingham and the United States. It seems to me that the best way to prevent that kind of damage, which is very serious, is to, in time, take steps to provide euaal treatment to all of our citizens. That is the best remedy in this case and other cases.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you see any hope of Birmingham serving as a model for a solution in other communities facing similar problems?

President Kennedy's opening remarks, May 8, 1963

THE PRESIDENT: We will have to see what happens in Birmingham over the next few days.

QUESTION: Mr. President, in the Alabama crisis at Birmingham, according to your interpretation of the powers of the Presidency, was there power that you possessed either by statute or the Constitution that you chose not to invoke or did you use your powers in your view to the fullest in this controversy?

THE PRESIDENT: There isn't any Federal statute that was involved in the last few days in Birmingham, Alabama. I indicated the areas where the Federal Government had intervened in Birmingham, the matter of voting, the matter of dealing with education, and other matters. On the specific question of the parades, that did not involve a Federal statute.

QUESTION: Mr. President, two Negro students--

THE PRESIDENT: As I indicated in my answer, and that is the reason why Mr. Marshall is proceeding the way he has, we have not had, for example, a legal suit as we have had in some other cases where there was a Federal statute involved.

QUESTION: Two Negro students apparently plan to apply for admission this summer in the Huntsville Branch of the University of Alabama, and the Governor of Alabama has said that he will physically bar their entrance. Is there anything the Administration can do to avoid this collision?

THE PRESIDENT: We would hope that the decision of the court would be carried out, and this is our continual view, in a way that maintains law and order. This, of course, does involve the Federal Government, because it is a Federal statute. But we would hope that all people would follow the dictates of the court whether they agree with them or not, and that the law and order would be maintained by the local authorities and that all those who have a responsibility under any local or State constitution for the maintenance of law and order would meet their responsibilities. This is a matter, of course, as I said, that does involve the Federal Government.

QUESTION: Mr. President, to try to improve race relations in a non-crisis atmosphere, last Sunday, according to the UPI, 160 Knoxville, Tennessee, white and Negro families visited each other's homes. Do you feel it would be in the public interest for you to use the prestige of your office to encourage similar church and civic-supported projects nationally?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it would be very helpful, and you can start right here in Washington, D.C., where this is greatly needed, and all groups, it seems to me, can afford not only to concern themselves, as they do, with Birmingham, but also to look into their own lives and their own eating habits, and all of the rest, to see whether they are living up to the spirit you expressed in your question.

QUESTION: On the matter of improving race relations in the United States, do you think that a fireside chat on civil rights would serve a constructive purpose?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it might. If I thought it would, I would give one. We have attempted to use all-- what happens is we move situation by situation. Quite obviously all these situations carry with them dangers. We have not got a settlement yet in Birmingham. I attempted to make clear my strong view that there is an important moral issue involved of equality for all of our citizens. And until you give it to them you are going to have difficulties as we have had this week in Birmingham. The time to give it to them is before the disasters come and not afterwards. But I made a speech the night of Mississippi at Oxford to the citizens of Mississippi and others that did not seem to do much good. But this doesn't mean we should not keep on trying.

QUESTION: May I ask you a question on your statement on Birmingham? I believe you said that the results of the efforts by Mr. Marshall have been that the business community has pledged that substantial steps will begin to meet the needs of the Negro community. Could you expand that? What kind of substantial steps?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I said as the result of responsible efforts on the part of both white and Negro leaders over the last 72 hours, the business community of Birmingham, and so on. So it is their efforts, and not the Federal Government's efforts. I would think it would be much better to permit the community of Birmingham to proceed now in the next 24 hours to see if we can get some-- and not from here.

May 7, 1955

Reverend George Lee, NAACP Leader and Voting Rights Activist, Murdered in Belzoni, Mississippi

Excerpted in whole from May 07, 1955 Rev. George Lee, Voting Rights Activist, Killed in Mississippi, Equal Justice Initiative

Reverend George Lee, co-founder of the Belzoni, Mississippi NAACP and the first African American to register to vote in Humphreys County since Reconstruction, was shot and killed in Belzoni on May 7, 1955. He is considered one of the early martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement.

Rev. Lee first moved to Belzoni to preach, but began working to register other African Americans to vote after the local NAACP was founded in 1953. He later served as chapter president and successfully registered some 100 African American voters in Belzoni—an extraordinary feat considering the significant risk of violent retaliation facing Black voters in the Deep South at the time.

Belzoni was also home to a White Citizen's Council—a group of white residents actively working to suppress civil rights activism and maintain white supremacy through threats, economic intimidation, and violence. The council learned of Rev. Lee's voter registration efforts and targeted him with threats and intimidation, but he was undeterred.

While Rev. Lee was driving home on the night of May 7th, gunshots were fired into the cab of his car, ripping off the lower half of his face. He later died at Humphreys County Medical Center. When NAACP field secretary for Mississippi Medgar Evers came to investigate the death, the county sheriff boldly denied that any homicide had taken place; instead, he claimed that Rev. Lee had died in a car accident and that the lead bullets found in his jaw were dental fillings.

An investigation revealed evidence against two members of the local White Citizen's Council, but when the local prosecutor resisted moving forward, the case stalled. The NAACP memorial service held in Rev. Lee's honor was attended by more than 1,000 mourners.

In April 2019, the Equal Justice Initiative dedicated a monument honoring Rev. George Lee and 23 other Black men, women, and children killed in acts of racial violence in the 1950s. Hundreds of community members gathered to support the act of remembrance, including family and community members connected to each of the named victims. Ms. Helen Sims, founder and operator of the Rev. George Lee Museum in Belzoni, was present to stand for the memory of Rev. Lee.

Photo from Rev. George Lee, Voting Rights Activist, Killed in Mississippi, Kolumn Magazine, May 7, 2020 (photo unconfirmed as that of Rev. George Lee - please forward ID info if found).
See May 7, 1955: Murder of Rev. George W. Lee, Zinn Education Project, which includes the documentary film, the Rev. George Lee Case, linked below.
“Is Mississippi Hushing Up a Lynching? Rev. George Lee Murdered in Belzoni” in Jet Magazine article, May 26, 1955.

May 6, 1963

Protests and Arrests Continue as Over 1000 Jailed, Mostly Youth, in Birmingham, Alabama

Excerpted in whole from Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail: Kress Building and Bus Boycott, The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History & Reconciliation Foundation

Birmingham Jails 1,000, More Negroes

Waves of Chanting Students Seized Talks Bog Down 5 Subdue Negro Woman Birmingham Jails l,000 More Negroes Protesting Segregation TRUCE TALKS FAIL TO REACH ACCORD Marshall and King Confer White Leaders Refuse Integration Demands 'Too Little, Too Late' Flyers Urge Action Seeks Assurances More Marchers

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 6 About 1,000 Negroes were arrested today as wave after wave of marchers chanted challenges to segregation.

The arrest total, an estimate from the police, was the highest for a single day in the five week racial crisis in this Southern steel center. The authorities said about 40 percent of those arrested were juveniles.

Approximately 100 policeman and firemen held a sullen crowd of more than 2000 Negroes in check at the 16th Street Baptist Church, departure point for the marchers. They were assisted by ministers who emerged from the church to plead against violence.

Read full story.

Photos, page 33, May 7, 1963, New York Times
Hundreds of African Americans clap and sing during large scale demonstration march in Birmingham on May 6. (AP)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hanged in Effigy, May 6, 1963, in front of the headquarters of the National States Rights Party in Birmingham, Alabama. Denver Post via Getty Images
Advertisement, page 34, May 7, 1963, New York Times

May 5, 1962

Stillman College Students Arrested After Refusing to Give Up Their Seats on Tuscaloosa, Alabama Bus - Sparks Boycott Months Later

Excerpted in whole from Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail: Kress Building and Bus Boycott, The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History & Reconciliation Foundation

Kress Building and Bus Boycott
2223 University Boulevard

In front of the Kress store the Druid City Transit Company maintained a popular bus stop. On May 5, 1962, six years after the federal courts had ruled segregation on public transportation to be unconstitutional, a white Druid Transit Company bus driver ordered three black Stillman students and a high school student to give their seats to two white riders. An argument ensued. Rev. Willie Herzfeld, a Lutheran minister and civil rights activist, was summoned for help by other Stillman students who ran from the bus–Merjo Merri­weather, Samuel Pitts, and William Jones.

His efforts were not success­ful and the four students were charged and jailed for disorderly conduct. That night the students were bailed out by Dr. Woody Robinson, a local black physician. The same evening The Ministers Alliance met and formalized the Tuscaloosa Citizen’s Action Committee (TCAC), and elected Reverend Herzfeld as president. The TCAC inaugurated the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa.

Following the 1962 episode, the Druid Transit Co. promised integration, but harassment continued for years. On August 3, 1964, a white bus driver allegedly shot at a black man, saying the man had cursed him. In response, on August 10 protesters demanded an end to discrimination and the immediate hiring of African-American bus drivers.

Protesters sang “If You Miss Me from the Back of the Bus” at a mass meeting that evening. There, Rev. T. Y. Rogers, Jr., called for a bus boycott and forwarded an ultimatum, “If you want our business, make non-discrimination policies public.”

The boycott began and ridership quickly decreased by 60 percent. The bus company ignored Rogers’ demands and on November 10 surrendered its commission.

Short film, Riding for Rights - The Story of the Stillman Bus Boycotts in Tuscaloosa, featuring one of the three Stillman students, Tuscaloosa resident Merjo Hollingworth-Merriwether, Dr. Hillary N. Green, University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail: Kress Building and Bus Boycott, The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History & Reconciliation Foundation

For the next six months, blacks who had depended on the bus scrambled. They relied on an informal network of “courtesy cars” to ferry them to work, stores, and school. By Christmas, extra financial help was needed and Rev. Rogers successfully recruited funds from the SCLC. Finally on April 12, 1965, the new Tuscaloosa Transit Co., complete with integrated staff and a public non-discrimination policy, began service.

Article in The Student Voice, June, 1962, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

May 4, 1961

The First Freedom Ride Begins – 13 Depart Washington, DC for New Orleans, Soon to Face Violence

Photo of exhibit, James Farmer and the 1961 Freedom Rides, at the University of Mary Washington, staged on and around a 1960s-era bus. See Freedom Rides Tribute Wins International Award,

On May 4, 1961, a group of thirteen young people departs Washington, D.C.’s Greyhound Bus terminal, bound for the South. Their journey is peaceful at first, but the riders will meet with shocking violence on their way to New Orleans, eventually being forced to evacuate from Jackson, Mississippi but earning a place in history as the first Freedom Riders.

Two Supreme Court rulings, Morgan v. Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia, forbade the racial segregation of bus lines, and a 1955 ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission outlawed the practice of using “separate but equal” buses. Nonetheless, bus lines in the South continued to abide by Jim Crow laws, ignoring the federal mandate to desegregate, for years. The Congress of Racial Equality, with assistance from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, decided to protest this practice by sending white and Black riders together into the South, drawing inspiration both from recent sit-ins and the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, in which activists attempting to desegregate buses were imprisoned in North Carolina for violating Jim Crow laws.

Infographic showing the routes and timeline of the Freedom Rides of 1961.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc./Kenny Chmielewski

The riders who boarded the buses on May 4 were mostly students, and several were teenagers. Among them was 21-year-old John Lewis, who would go on to co-organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and represent a Georgia district containing most of Atlanta in Congress for 33 years. Trained in nonviolence, they sat in mixed-race pairs on the buses in order to make a statement about integration while deterring violence.

John Lewis, top left, was among the Freedom Riders who were arrested in Jackson, Miss., in May 1961, and hastily convicted of breach of peace. Mississippi Department of Archives and History. From Who Were the Freedom Riders?, New York Times, July 18, 2020.

When they reached Rock Hill, South Carolina, however, Lewis was badly beaten, and things got worse as they approached Birmingham, Alabama. In Anniston, outside of Birmingham, a crowd of local Klansmen attacked one of the buses, setting it ablaze and sending several riders to the hospital. Local police fired warning shots in the air to dispel the riot, although it has since been revealed that they had privately assured the Klan they would give them time to carry out an attack before intervening. In Birmingham, more Klansmen beat the riders with baseball bats and bicycle chains as the local police, led by the notorious Bull Connor, stood down.

The original Freedom Riders finally abandoned their plan to reach New Orleans and were evacuated from Jackson, Mississippi, but even as the first ride came to an end more Freedom Riders were beginning theirs. Over the course of the summer, over 400 people took part in dozens of Freedom Rides followed in their footsteps. Like the first Riders, they were often met with violence and arrested, but their actions drew national attention to the brutality of white supremacy and the flagrance with which Southern states, businesses, and law enforcement continued to disregard federal law and finally won true desegregation of the buses.

May 3, 1963

Police Dogs and Fire Hoses Turned on Mostly Youth Protesters in Birmingham, Alabama

Firemen turn fire hoses on demonstrators, Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, Photo by Charles Moore. Fair Use Image
Excerpted in whole from 1963 May 3 - Fire Hoses and Police Dogs Attack Birmingham Civil Right Demonstrators, Today in Civil Liberties History

In one of the most dramatic moments of the entire civil rights movement, the police in Birmingham, Alabama, used fire hoses and trained police dogs against African-American civil rights demonstrators.

Bull Connor, who became internationally notorious as the Commissioner of Public Safety, ordered the attacks on the protesters, who had gathered the day before as part of the “Children’s Crusade” (see the events the day before, May 2, 1963).

Photographs and television images of these events were transmitted around the world — and were instrumental in rousing American public opinion on civil rights. By May 7th, Connor and the police had arrested and jailed over 3,000 demonstrators, many of whom were children.

The crisis spurred President John Kennedy to propose a federal civil rights bill on June 11, 1963. A year later, an even stronger bill became the 1964 Civil Rights Act, on July 2, 1964.

"Bull" Connor in 1963. Encyclopedia of Alabama.
May 3, 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, Bill Hudson, Associated Press.
Reformatted for this post from page 1 and page 8., The New York Times, May 4, 1963. Click image for readable size.

May 2, 1963

D-Day in Birmingham, Alabama —The Children's Campaign Begins as Hundreds Arrested

On May 2, 1963, more than 700 Black children peacefully protested racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, as part of the Children's Crusade, beginning a movement that sparked widely-publicized police brutality that shocked the nation and spurred major civil rights advances.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had launched the Children's Crusade to revive the Birmingham anti-segregation campaign. As part of that effort, more than 1,000 African American children trained in nonviolent protest tactics walked out of their classes on May 2 and assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to march to downtown Birmingham. Though hundreds were assaulted, arrested, and transported to jail in school buses and paddy wagons, the children refused to relent their peaceful demonstration.

The next day, when hundreds more children began to march, Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor directed local police and firemen to attack the children with high-pressure fire hoses, batons, and police dogs. Images of children being brutally assaulted by police and snarling canines appeared on television and in newspapers throughout the nation and world, provoking global outrage. The U.S. Department of Justice soon intervened.

The campaign to desegregate Birmingham ended on May 10 when city officials agreed to desegregate the city's downtown stores and release jailed demonstrators in exchange for an end to SCLC's protests. The following evening, disgruntled proponents of segregation responded to the agreement with a series of local bombings.

In the wake of the Children's Crusade, the Birmingham Board of Education announced that all children who participated in the march would be suspended or expelled from school. A federal district court upheld the ruling, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ultimately reversed the decision and ordered the students re-admitted to school.

In this May 3, 1963, photo, Birmingham police officers take signs from young people participating in the Children's Crusade. This effort was part of the larger Birmingham Campaign of 1963, a widespread movement aimed at ending segregation in Alabama's largest city. Children's Crusade, Encyclopedia of Alabama. Photo courtesy of The Birmingham News by Ed Jones.
Above and below: Policemen Use Police Dogs During Civil Rights Demonstrations, Birmingham Protests, Charles Moore, National Museum of African American History & Culture
Birmingham and the Children’s March, Relgion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS, 4/25/13. Managing editor Kim Lawton looks at the march's legacy and interviews some of those who marched as children, including University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski.

May 1, 1959

Prince Edward County, Virginia Closes All Schools for 5 Years to Avoid Desegregation

Below: Excerpted in whole from 1959 May 1 Prince Edward County, Virginia, Closes Schools Rather Than Integrate, Today in Civil Liberties History

Ordered to integrate its schools under Brown v. Board of Education, Prince Edward County, Virginia, chose instead to close all public schools on this day. They remained closed until 1964, when the Supreme Court ordered the county to open them, in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, on May 25, 1964.

While the schools were closed, the Prince Edward Foundation supported private academies to educate white students. There were no formal arrangements for African-American students; some were supported by private groups and others went to out-of-state schools. The “Lost Class of ’59” was one of the great tragedies of the struggle over school desegregation following Brown v. Board of Education. The Little Rock, Arkansas, schools were also closed for the academic year 1958–1959 because of resistance to racial integration.

The closing of the Prince Edward County schools was just one part of the program of “massive resistance” to school integration after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17, 1954. Other actions included the Southern Manifesto, signed by 100 members of Congress on March 12, 1956; an Alabama law that would have required the disclosure of the names of NAACP members, but which the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama declared unconstitutional on June 30, 1958; and a set of Virginia laws designed to restrict the activities of the NAACP (September 29, 1956; April 2, 1963).

The school closing episode left a lasting legacy for education and race in the county. The 2010 Census reported that the county population was 36 percent African-American. The public school population, however, was a majority African-American, while only 5 percent of the private schools, the legacy of the closing crisis, were African-American.

The Lost Class of 1959. Meet members of the "Lost Class of 1959" on What Matters, WHRO Public Media, 26 min.
Newspaper article describing the closing of Norfolk public schools, public opinion over the school closings, and the effects on students and teachers. Report on 'The Lost Class of '59', The New York Times Magazine, January 4, 1959, from Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collection.

Resources Used – common sources used to find daily posts


On June 1, 2020, in part as a response prompted by the George Floyd murder and subsequent re-awakening of the general public to the history of racist struggles, I started a daily practice of finding a relevant moment in Freedom Rights Movement anniversary history. I've found this both personally cathartic – engaging in daily consciousness of the ongoing struggle over the past 400 years – as well as potentially useful for future students.

~Howard Levin

#ohpcrm #civilrights