On this dayMay 09, 1961

John Lewis and Two Others Attacked at South Carolina Greyhound Bus Terminal

Image | PBS

On May 9, 1961, 21-year-old John Lewis, a young black civil rights activist, was severely beaten by a mob at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, Greyhound bus terminal. A few days earlier, Lewis and twelve Freedom Riders -- seven black and six white -- had left Washington, D.C., on a Greyhound bus headed to New Orleans. They sat interracially on the bus, planning to test a Supreme Court ruling that made segregation in interstate transportation illegal.

The Freedom Riders rode safely through Virginia and North Carolina, but experienced violence when they stopped at the bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and tried to enter the white waiting room together. John Lewis and two other Riders were brutally attacked before a white police officer, who had been present the entire time, finally intervened. The Freedom Riders responded with nonviolence and decided not to press charges, continuing their protest ride further south where they experienced continued violence from white mobs in Alabama.

Nearly 47 years later, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols apologized to John Lewis, by then a United States Congressman representing Georgia. In 2009, one of his attackers, former Klansman Elwin Wilson, also apologized. "I don't hold the town any more responsible than those men who beat us," Congressman Lewis has said about the community of Rock Hill, "and I saw those men as victims of the same system of segregation and hatred."

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