When the Freedom Riders arrived in Montgomery, Alabama in May of 1961, they were greeted and beaten by a mob at the Greyhound station. The civil rights activists were not welcome in the deep south, and local law enforcement failed to protect them from violence and intimidation as the activists attempted to end race discrimination almost a century after the abolition of slavery.
Yesterday, current Montgomery police chief Kevin Murphy apologized to the Freedom Riders, including Georgia Representative John Lewis, at the historic First Baptist Church, offering the congressman his badge and admitting that the police department had enforced unjust laws while the Freedom Riders protested in Montgomery.
The police chief told NBC News that, "I think what I did today should have been done a long time ago. It needed to be done. It needed to be spoken because we have to live with the truth and it is the truth."
Rep. Lewis, who was in town as part of the the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama, was moved by the apology, which was the first one he had ever received from law enforcement in the south. "I teared up. I tried to keep from crying," Lewis said. Lewis was beaten by the mob in Montgomery as police officers ignored the violence.
Chief Murphy said, arm in arm with Rep. Lewis that "there's still a lot of work to do, we know that. We, the police department, needs to make the first move to build that trust back in our community that was once lost because we enforced unjust laws."