An Alabama police chief brought U. S. Rep. John Lewis to tears Saturday, apologizing to the noted civil rights leader for failing to protect the Freedom Riders during a trip to Montgomery in 1961.
Lewis and fellow civil rights activists were beaten by a mob after arriving at Montgomery’s Greyhound station in May, 1961. Then U. S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had requested that these Freedom Riders be protected, but the Alabama police ignored that request.
On last Saturday at ceremony at First Baptist Church, the city’s current police chief, Kevin Murphy, apologized to Lewis and offered him his badge in a gesture of reconciliation, telling the longtime Georgia congressman that Montgomery police had “enforced unjust laws” in failing to protect the Freedom Riders more than five decades ago. Lewis, who was arrested during civil rights protests in cities across the south, said it was the first time a police chief had apologized to him. “It means a great deal,” Lewis said. “I teared up. I tried to keep from crying.”
Lewis and other members of Congress were taking part in the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama, a threeday event that also included trips to Selma, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
Murphy said the decision to apologize was easy. “For me, freedom and the right to live in peace is a cornerstone of our society and that was something that Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Congressman Lewis were trying to achieve,” Murphy said. “I think what I did today should have been done a long time ago…”