In this WSB newsfilm clip from a press conference held in Montgomery, Alabama on May 23, 1961, Alabama governor John Patterson demands that "agitators" Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders leave Alabama immediately and condemns the Freedom Riders for seeking to cause racial trouble.
The clip begins with Alabama governor John Patterson, wearing a suit with a flower in the lapel, and sitting in a chair in front of several microphones and with a curtain behind him. An off-screen reporter appears to ask governor Patterson a question. His comments are not completely recorded. Later, governor Patterson begins speaking, condemning Martin Luther King, Jr. as "the worst of all the agitators in this country." He asserts that King came to Montgomery in order to cause a race riot and that he was assisted by the federal government. Patterson declares that "the best thing for King and all of the so-called Freedom Riders is to return to their homes, go back to their books, and mind their own business."
After a break in the clip, Patterson continues his criticism of the Freedom Ride. He counters the Freedom Riders' claim of interstate travel, reporting that the Freedom Riders are not traveling as interstate travelers but are instead buying tickets from one community to another. Additionally, he claims the riders, African American men and white women, seek to "force themselves into situations which tend to inflame the local people." He accuses the Freedom Riders of violating tradition and city ordinances in order to provoke violent reactions. Although he recognizes the state's responsibility to protect travelers, he insists that Freedom Riders are instigators, not traditional interstate passengers.
In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized an interracial "Freedom Ride" through the South to test compliance with federal regulations against segregated travel. Beginning in Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961, the riders traveled in two groups through Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia with relatively little opposition. Upon reaching Alabama on May 14, the two groups were attacked by white mobs; in Anniston, the mob attacked and burned the Greyhound bus and in Birmingham the mob brutally beat the Trailways riders. After the United States Justice Department was unable secure a guarantee that Alabama officials would protect the riders as they traveled through the state, the riders were flown to New Orleans on May 15. Students from the Nashville Civil Rights movement, unwilling to let mob violence defeat the ride, organized a group to travel from Birmingham to Montgomery on May 20. This second group of riders were met by another mob in Montgomery, and several riders and bystanders were severely beaten. Among those attacked in Montgomery was John Seigenthaler, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy's personal assistant. Martin Luther King, Jr. flew from Alabama to Montgomery, his former home, to try and assist the riders. During a May 21 mass meeting held at First Baptist Church in Montgomery where King was scheduled to speak in support of the riders, a white mob tried to attack the church. President John F. Kennedy sent federal marshals to Montgomery, and Governor Patterson later declared martial law in the city and sent the Alabama National Guard to the church to protect the meeting participants and to escort them home in the morning. After more negotiations between federal officials and leaders from Alabama and Mississippi, the Freedom Riders traveled from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi on May 24. Once in Jackson, under a secretly negotiated deal between Department of Justice officials and Mississippi state leaders, the riders were all arrested under "breach of peace" charges as they got off the bus. Subsequent groups of riders who also traveled to Jackson were arrested throughout the summer. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the governmental body responsible for interstate travel, issued a ruling forbidding segregation in facilities serving interstate passengers.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of a press conference during which Alabama governor John Patterson condemns the Freedom Riders for instigating racial trouble and demands that the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King, Jr. leave the state, Montgomery, Alabama, 1961 May 23, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0775, 10:00/12:17, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.