On May 21, 1961, the “Freedom Riders,” civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated South, took a bus from Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama, protected by a contingent of the Alabama State Highway Patrol. Upon reaching the Montgomery city limits, the Highway Patrol abandoned them. At the bus station, 300 white southerners were waiting and attacked the group with baseball bats and iron pipes. Despite an order from U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to protect the Freedom Riders, the local police allowed the racist white mob to viciously beat them. White Freedom Riders, labeled “N*****-Lovers,” were singled out for especially brutal beatings. Ambulances on the scene manned by white crews refused to take the wounded to the hospital and the Freedom Riders were eventually saved by local members of the black community. Many Freedom Riders were hospitalized.
John Lewis, now a US Congressman was one of 21 protesters who stepped off that bus and into the violent racist crowd. On Sunday Montgomery Chief of Police Kevin Murphy said his department utterly failed to protect civil rights marchers. Murphy apologized for the bus terminal incident and presented Lewis with his badge.