Skip to comments.US REP. John Lewis - In 1961 he was beaten in Rock Hill, SC. He now returns for 'overdue' apology
Posted on 01/21/2008 1:28:49 PM PST by Between the Lines
ROCK HILL --Nearly 47 years after U.S. Rep. John Lewis was beaten in a civil rights protest here, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols will apologize to Lewis at the 5th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Prayer Breakfast.
Lewis is the keynote speaker at Monday's sold-out event, whose theme this year is "Remember, Act, Celebrate."
"It was a horrible thing that happened here to Congressman Lewis and an apology is long overdue," said Echols, who was a high school sophomore in Mulberry, Fla., when the incident happened.
"There is no excuse for the beating he took at the Rock Hill bus station. But it happened, and I wanted him to know our city has changed."
It has changed enough to proclaim on road signs that it has "No Room for Racism."
Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and son of an Alabama sharecropper, has visited Rock Hill on several occasions since the attack -- to help organize black voters in the 1960s and to speak at Winthrop University in 2002. He says he has no ill will toward the city.
"I don't hold the town any more responsible than those men who beat us, and I saw those men as victims of the same system of segregation and hatred," said Lewis, who later marched with King in Selma and Montgomery.
Lewis, who was a 21-year-old seminary student in 1961, said he and his fellow 13 protesters -- seven whites and six blacks -- had left Washington in early May on public buses to demonstrate how blacks were discriminated against. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which started at Shaw University in Raleigh in 1960, had helped plan the Freedom Ride to test the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.
The trip was uneventful until they arrived in Charlotte. Bus stations had been warned to remove "coloreds only" signs from their waiting rooms and rest rooms. In Charlotte, a black protester was arrested for going into a whites-only barbershop and asking for a shoeshine, but those charges were later dropped.
Lewis said they knew that the farther South they traveled, the more likely it was that they would run into violence. To prepare for the trip, the protesters had prepared their wills and studied the nonviolent protests of Gandhi.
"We knew the violence was coming, but we thought it would begin in Mississippi and Alabama, not South Carolina," Lewis said Thursday morning by phone from his congressional office.
Lewis wrote about the May 9, 1961, incident in his book "Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement":
"I approached the `WHITE' waiting room in the Rock Hill Greyhound Terminal, I noticed a large number of young white guys hanging around the pinball machines in the lobby. Two of these guys were leaning by the doorjamb to the waiting room. They wore leather jackets, had those ducktail haircuts and were each smoking a cigarette. "Other side, nigger," one of the two said, stepping in my way as I began to walk through the door. He pointed to a door down the way with a sign that said `COLORED.'... "The next thing I knew, a fist smashed the right side of my head. Then another hit me square in the face. As I fell to the floor I could feel feet kicking me hard in the sides. I could taste blood in my mouth."
A white male and black female were also assaulted before a white police officer, who had watched the events unfold, finally broke up the beating. Other police arrived but the protesters refused to press charges.
It was the first time that blood was drawn on the Freedom Ride, and the story drew minor attention in newspapers the following day, mostly buried by the major news of the flight of NASA's first manned rocket.
"I had no idea that history was being made up in space while I was being beaten in Rock Hill," Lewis said.
Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., of York, has taken a three-day tour of historic civil rights sites in the Deep South led by Lewis.
To understand Lewis, Spratt said, you need to see him guide people through a place like the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where four young girls were killed when their Sunday school was bombed in September 1963.
"John was at the forefront of the civil rights protests, suffered all sorts of indignities and literally put his life on the line dozens of times," said Spratt, who will introduce Lewis at the breakfast. "But he's an easygoing guy today, not at all embittered. John's work during those times was an example of what Dr King said: `The means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.' "
Tom Hanchett, staff historian of the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, says that Rock Hill's gesture to Lewis is timely.
"Lewis and others in the civil rights movement sought not to make enemies ultimately, but through their moral actions to convert skeptics and indeed enemies into friends," Hanchett said. "The Rock Hill apology represents a triumph of that strategy.
"The wheel of the Freedom Ride has come full circle."
It seems Mr. Lewis has more sense than does the mayor.
Yes he does, and it was a city employed police officer who broke up the fight.
I’m no fan of John Lewis, but that was a gracious thing to say. Given that attitude I would expect him to be opposed to “reparations”.
What? The Mayor beat him up back then? He must have. Why else would he apologize? Otherwise it would make as much sense as me apologizing for the Spanish American War to the King of Spain even though my ancestors were in Finland at the time.
He is more forgiving than they deserve, unless the @$$holes came to him and apologized in person.
The difference being that there would be nobody left alive from the Spanish-American war for you to apologize to. John Lews is still alive and kicking, in spite of he best efforts of the mob. If someone wants to make amends on behalf of the town then that’s up to him and his constituents.
I went to college with this Bozo. He used to wear a sheet, and I don’t mean going to a toga party. Gag, puke and lord have mercy on us all.
Tight lines on the truth squad.
tell it like it is
I didn’t realize he had been beaten, perhaps that explains why he speaks like he has a mouthful of half-chewed taffy...
Isn’t this the Congress-Critter who believes that the sharks still follow the old slave-trade routes, because so many dead and dying slaves were tossed overboard??
That was Major Owens. Lewis is the one that believes Republicans are Nazis that want to throw seniors in the gutter and feed them Alpo.