Article Attacking the Freedom Riders

by Westbrook Pegler

 Westbrook Pegler, a strong proponent of segregation, was allowed a personal interview with me in the first few days after I was arrested as a Freedom Rider. Here is his derogatory article which was published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Monday, June 12, 1961.   The hostile sentiments expressed towards the Freedom Riders was the rule in the south in this period of our history (not surprisingly…) The only people I trusted on the streets were blacks. I especially did not trust the police, nor frankly, any white person that I came across.

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Westbrook Pegler Article

Violence in Montgomery, Alabama

On May 21, 1961, the surviving contingent of Riders took a bus from Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama, protected by a contingent of the Alabama State Highway Patrol.  However, when they reached the Montgomery city limits, the Highway Patrol abandoned them.  At the bus station, a large white mob was waiting with baseball bats and iron pipes. The local police allowed them to viciously beat the Freedom Riders uninterrupted. Again, white Freedom Riders, branded “Nigger-Lovers,” were singled out for particularly brutal beatings.  There is a famous picture of Jim Zwerg with blood running all down his suit. Justice Department official Seigenthaler was beaten and left unconscious lying in the street. Ambulances, manned by white attendants refused to take the wounded to the hospital. Brave local blacks finally rescued them. A number of the Freedom Riders were hospitalized.

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Hospitalized Freedom Riders Ejected from Hospital

That night, the hospitalized Freedom Riders were ejected from the hospital because hospital personnel were afraid of the mob. Eight cars of churchmen, brimming with shotguns and rifles, headed off to rescue the riders. (This is ironic, considering that the Freedom Riders were pacifists and dedicated to non-violence). Chief Bull Connor threatened to arrest Rev. Shuttlesworth for having interracial meetings at his house. None-the-less, Shuttlesworth rescued Peck from the hospital at 2 AM.

Violence in Birmingham, Alabama

In Birmingham, an FBI informant in the Klan learned of a detailed plan in which Police Chief Bull Conner had agreed to give the Klan 15 minutes after the bus arrived to beat the riders before local police would arrive.  The plan was reported to the FBI headquarters, but no action was taken. The Trailways station was filled with Klansmen and reporters (including Howard K. Smith). When the Freedom Riders exited the bus, they were beaten by the mob with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains, and then, battered and bleeding, they were arrested. White Freedom Riders were particularly singled out for frenzied beatings. Two riders were hospitalized, including white Freedom Rider Jim Peck with 51 stitches in his head. Rev. Shuttlesworth in Birmingham was notified of the beatings by a fleeing reporter.


Violence in Anniston, Alabama

In Anniston, Alabama, a white mob awaited the arrival of the first bus bearing the Freedom Riders at the Greyhound station.  As it arrived, they attacked the bus with iron pipes and baseball bats and slashed its tires.  The terrified bus driver hastily drove out of the station, but the punctured tires forced the bus to pull off the road in a rural area outside of Anniston. The white mob who pursued the bus, fire bombed it and held the doors shut preventing riders from exiting the burning bus. Finally an undercover policeman drew his gun, and forced the doors to be opened. The mob pulled the Freedom Riders off the bus and beat them with iron pipes . The bus became completely engulfed in flames, and was completely destroyed. (Here is riveting description in “The Race Beat:”by Roberts and Klibinoff.)

The second bus carrying Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston an hour later at the Trailways station. The bus driver got off and talked with Anniston police and a group of 8 white men. After the black Freedom Riders refused orders to move to the back of the bus, the white gang came flying onto the bus and beat and stomped the riders, especially targeting white “nigger lovers.” The white gang threw the bleeding and semi-conscious riders to the back of the bus, and it left for Birmingham.

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Introduction to Segregation in the South, 1961

Racial segregation was the rule throughout all of the southern and in areas of the northern United States  until the 1960s.  Public facilities were claimed to be “separate but equal” by proponents of segregation.   Those who violated these social mores were subject to abuse ranging from beatings to bombings to lynchings.  (The lynching shown occurred in Marion, Indiana in 1930)1.  In 1961, the Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation was still in its infancy, with only a few victories realized (notably integration of Woolworth’s lunch counters and, shown at the left, integration of the city buses in Montgomery, Alabama2 ). The federal government had passed an Interstate Commerce Commission law stating that it was illegal to segregate public interstate facilities. However, this federal law was officially ignored throughout the South with separate white and “colored” facilities enforced at bus and train stations 3 . As a rule throughout the South, police not only turned a blind eye to violence against movement people, but were often active participants in the beatings.  Pleas to President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to enforce the federal law were ignored, and the U.S. Justice Department turned a blind eye to these violations, despite pleas to them to enforce the laws prohibiting segregation of interstate facilities.

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Stills Taken 28 May on the Trailways Freedom Ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi

These images (except for the first) are all taken from Stanley Nelson’s Film “Freedom Riders.”  They are all taken from Chapter 13 of the PBS video, at the approximate minutes indicated into that chapter.


28 May 1961:  We successfully integrated the Montgomery Trailways station, the scene of some terrible beatings inflicted just days before on Freedom Riders (mostly Nashville students) who came down from Birmingham just days before.

In the picture, with the page number of their images in Ethridge’s “Breach of Peace” are freedom Riders, left to right:
Front row, seated: David Fankhauser (p 58-60), Allen Cason, Jr. (p 58-59), David Myers (pp 58-59, 64-65), Pauline Knight-Ofosu (pp 58-59, 62-63), Franklin Hunt (?)(pp 58-59)

Back row: standing Larry Hunter (?) (pp 58-59, 61), William Manhoey (?) (pp58-59); seated, back to camera: Albert Lee Dunn (pp 58-59)
Picture source: Wilkenson, Brenda, “The Civil Rights Movement, An Illustrated History,” p. 82.




The Trailways bus leaves Montgomery Alabama under the watchful eyes of the National Guard

Source: Stanley Nelson’s, “Freedom Riders”,

Chapter 13:
0 min, 08 sec



Approach to the Jackson Mississippi Trailways Station,

Source: Stanley Nelson’s, “Freedom Riders”,

Chapter 13:
0 min, 28 sec



The Trailways bus pulls into the station.

Source: Stanley Nelson’s, “Freedom Riders”,

Chapter 13:
0 min, 28 sec



Arrests being made in Jackson Bus Station.

Source: Stanley Nelson’s, “Freedom Riders”,

Chapter 13:
0 min, 28 sec



Being led out the the station into the Paddy  Wagon

Source: Stanley Nelson’s, “Freedom Riders”,

Chapter 13:
0 min, 28 sec



Arrested Freedom Riders are place in the Paddy Wagon.

Source: Stanley Nelson’s, Freedom Riders”,

Chapter 13:
0 min, 49 sec



Freedom Rider Mugshots:

Unknown Freedom Rider, Joan Trumphaue Mulholland (pp 86-89), David Fankhauser (p 58-60)

Chapter 13:
1 min, 20 sec



View down the cell block in Parchman State Penitentary Maximum Security Unit

Chapter 13:
1min, 34 sec

50th Reunion of the Freedom Riders, Chicago 2011

These pictures were taken by David Fankhauser at the 50th Reunion of Freedom Riders in Chicago, 27 April to 30 April 2011.

First set from the 25th floor of the Omni Hotel.  Thanks Oprah.

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Breakfast at the Omni, April 28, 2011

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On the bus (didn’t we have fun singing!) and disembarking at Harpo Studios (then they took my camera away!)

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My student guests from Simeon High School in South Chicago, with their teacher Steven Guarnieri (my future son-in-law) and Jesse Jackson

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Photos from the April 29th sessions

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Photos from the April 30th sessions

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Justice Department Enforces the Law

That summer, the Justice Department succeeded in getting the states to agree not to interfere with interstate travelers, and allow unrestricted, and thus we did accomplish the integration of public waiting rooms.

And don’t we STILL have a long way to go before a person is valued for his person instead of his color, creed or religion?

1    Kasher, Steven, The Civil Rights Movement, A photographic History, 1954-68, p. 20.
2    Ibid, p. 31.
3    Wilkenson, Brenda, The Civil Rights Movement, An Illustrated History, p. 82.
4    Kasher, p. 145.
5    Williams, Juan, Eyes on the Prize, America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965, p. 12.
6    Williams, p. 144.
7    Kasher, p. 86.
8     Williams, p. 150.
9     Wilkenson, p. 115.
10    Wexler, Sanford, An Eyewitness of the Civil Rights Movement , p. 130
NOTE: I have been called to task (correctly, I might add) for not crediting the photographers who have taken these images of the Freedom Rides. I am eager to give credit to these individuals if you happen to know who took the pictures I have posted. Send me an email with the information, thanks.