American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Moses Newson, 2 of 3
[unintelligible]The last thing we talk about you know [unintelligible]another bus flags you down and says ok a mob waiting for you, the station's closed Hey, this was Mother's Day and as we rolled into Anniston it was kinda quiet and we get to the station that actually was closed and there was this mob there and it was a mean one, and a bus driver would get off to take care of his business but he would lock the door behind him when he got out. They were calling us all kinda names names, "nigger", "nigger lovers", "communists", just everything, "Come on out and integrate Alabama, we dare you to do this we dare you to do that" and at the same time they were whacking the bus and the windows with chains
and boards and sticks and pipes and what ever that had. We didn't know it at the time but they were also puncturing the tires eventually we got out of there there was some police around who were not doing anything at all to stop these people who were attacking the bus and trying to get to us and there was a black lady who is right across the aisle from me and she was down on her knees between the seats there she was asking things like, "Why are they doing this to us?" Saying things like "I don't wanna die here like this" So i go over and try to console her a bit and explain to her what was going on and there
she talked a little bit, told me what her name was, said I could use it in my story which I did and then at the same time I as watching the windows and watching the doors to make sure nobody was getting on. Eventually the bus driver returned and we started out. At first there was a feeling of relief because we were getting away there we thought, but had this small car that was in front of the bus and it kept dodging from side to side to keep the bus from getting by and I looked back, there's a long long line of cars following us behind and people hanging out windows and yelling stuff, and that sort of thing. By the time we get to the edge of the city a tire goes down. That was kind of an awesome feeling because you know you are stuck there for a while and they bail out
of their cars and things and they started again calling names and banging on the doors and that sort of thing. Al Cowling, he got out and dug out his luggage from beneath the bus He strapped on his pistol and he stood in the doorway to keep anybody from actually coming on the bus. I talked to him later he said he thought that was one of the the tightest cases he he'd ever had to stand into. He said it was pretty tough situation for him also. They kept banging on the windows and calling us names and threatening us and that sort of thing and eventually they punched a hole in the window that was right behind my seat that's where the guy threw the bomb into the seat just behind me. The only thing I got was a couple burns behind the ears
little heat on the back of the neck or something like that. I was pretty good but as soon as that bomb went off it started getting dark in there, real dark in that place in that bus and I decided since they were still trying to whack people outside with whatever they were able to strike us with that I would just take my time about coming out. I but a handkerchief over my mouth and nose got down low and I just stayed there, two or three people were able to get out of windows and catch rides on to Birmingham and those who went out of the door I think most of them escaped getting beat up. Eventually they got so dark in there and it started getting very hot in there and I knew I had to get off the bus so
and there was a sight to behold coming off that bus, people were gagging and they were crawling around on the ground they were trying to get to smoke chest and that sort of thing and a heartbreaking thing to see that Americans would be treating fellow Americans that way. Eventually police arrive, other police arrived and everybody got out and not being hurt very much I helped the driver and the freedom riders [?] get the luggage out from under the bus before it started burning too badly I sorta realized I'd left my camera on the bus as I got out and saw that scene and wanted to shoot pictures but the situation is like that, those angry mobs would
usually go after people with cameras because they didn't wanna get thier pictures made made. So I thought it was safe at the time to leave the camera on the bus turned out to be a pretty bad decision I guess but the after that they milled around outside for a while and the ambulances came there was some little hassle at first about whether they should take the black people or take the freedom riders to the hospital but eventually they did. I hang around for a little while. [Interviewer in background-Let me go back a little bit, you want some water?] [background voices] What did [?] do to help you all get off the bus? well Cowling, he was a hero that day. Standing there with his pistol he kept the mob members from getting to us. Had it not
been for him, I really don't know what would've happened to us because they were pretty angry, they were pretty mean and nobody knew exactly what they would do in that situation but he's the guy who really gave us protection out there that day and one of the things about covering the south was that on civil rights situations you never knew what police were going to be, what they were going to do, whether they want to protect you, whether they were going to just stand by and let things happen that they had done at the bus station or whether they would join in beating you up as happened later that day in Birmingham where police actually got involved and helping to beat people. So it was a treacherous sorta situation, it was a dangerous sorta situation and almost anything could have happened to any of us out there
that day. [Interviewer] I just want you to tell me... separately that somebody threw a bomb on the bus or a molotov cocktail on the bus or whatever it is then they were trying to block the door of the bus, right? The mob to keep you on the bus and just burn you all alive is my understanding. Well, my understanding is that they wanted us to come off the bus and they were trying to get to us to get us to come off the bus. Cause he was blocking the doorway so they couldn't, you know, they couldn't get in. I don'y know ferociously they were trying to get on the bus. I don't think they wanted to get on the bus after it started burning. yeah Realize that there were undercover law enforcement officers on the bus ok Outside of Anniston
when they had us trapped there in the bus and Cowling stepped out and got his luggage and he strapped on his pistol, that's when I realized that we had some protection there. [intreviewer?]You guys are rolling outside of, you've gotten away you think, from Anniston, from the bus station at Anniston. Then what happened? That little car that was in front of us kept us from picking up any kind of speed and eventually we heard that sickening sound of tires going flat. We were surrounded almost immediately by people who had been trailing us in all those cars and things. And this guy got up from his seat in the
rear he went outside, got his luggage and came aboard and he strapped on his pistol and went and stood in the doorway and that's when I realized that we were going to get some protection and he actually kept people from getting on the bus and he allowed the people to get out who needed to get out of the bus. I was the last person coming off that bus because I decided that I didn't want to go out there and get beat up as some of them did when they first stepped off the bus. I just put the handkerchief over my mouth and nose and got down low and stayed there as long as I could. Eventually it became too hot to stay on the bus any longer, it was completely dark at that time and
I went out and there was an awful, awful scene outside with people gagging and crawling around the ground, sitting around on the grounds spitting and coughing and trying to get the smoke out of their chest and lungs and some of them had been struck when they came off the first go round but it was just an awful, awful, awful, awful scene. The kinda thing you couldn't imagine that Americans would be doing to their fellow Americans. [interviewer-Where was the mob at this point?] The mob was around the bus, several of them were around the bus. The ones who were attacking the bus would change and what not they were still around the bus. You know, they were there until they threw fire bomb in and it started burning and then they sorta backed off too
but they were also trying to beat people when they came off the bus. We didn't have any protection outside the bus at the time until some state troopers came. It was just Cowling and Sims and I don't know Sims was doing exactly but the guy, Cowling was doing pretty much had my attention directed to. [Interviewer- life and death situation, do you remember there was this little girl giving water, do you remember that at all?] Yeah I was cognizant of the fact that some people on the outside came and tried to help out but I don't remember who was who at the time. More than one person brought water and stuff was trying to help out out there. [Interviewer-There was a little girl
who was 12 I think and her family actually and her family had to move] Yeah, I read about that. I didn't know those particulars at the time. [Interviewer- ...you guys get a ride to the hospital, what happened at the hospital?] So the ambulance took most of the people to the hospital because I stayed around to talk to some people. I caught a ride in with a state trooper and in the emergency room where I was Joe Perkins[?] was calling around trying to locate somebody who could help us get out of there. The Governor had said no help, attorney general had said no help they were talking about they could take us to the city limits but that's all they could do for us. It was night time you know and nobody wanted to get dropped off at the city limits. We didn't have any cars or anything.
They were going to let us use the one telephone that Joe Perkins's using. [Interviewer- was the mob still there?] They were hanging around outside..[unintelligible] so even while Joe was calling trying to locate someone to get us out of there, members of the mob was still out here. We could hear them yelling and hollering and making all kinda noises out there. At the time I hadn't talked talked to my paper or anybody else so there was a public telephones just outside of the emergency room there, so I stepped out out. At the time the Afro was doing about thirteen editions a week and we had a paper that went to bed on Sunday night so I called a night editor and told him what kinda story I would have the next day I asked the editor if he would call my wife and let,him know, her know that I was ok and and I knew she'd be seeing all this stuff on TV and that
kinda thing. So we just had to hang around for awhile. Eventually Joe Perkins was able to reach Fred Shuttlesworth over in Birmingham and Reverend Shuttleworth said he would sent a car over to pick us up. He sent a caravan, probably about ten cars that came over to get us. Some of the people were reluctant to get in the cars, I understand that the Reverend had told them not to take any weapons or anything but Before I got anybody's car I sorta checked with the driver and uh they never admitted that they any weapons or anything but I felt pretty secure that they had brought something. Our driver, you know, was telling you guys, are pretty brave to come into a situation like this and he was saying the Freedom Riders came this far to try to help us and you know we would be less than men and if we didn't come in here and try to get you
guys out of this mess. After a long, long ride going on to Birmingham, it was dark out there and everything .....we caught a red light we got cats going out of the city there that night We were glad to get over to Birmingham. [Interviewer-why don't you drink some water, you okay?] Okay and now we're at the hospital, some of them were in rooms there trying to get service. I was pretty much confined to the emergency room situation They had nurses coming in, going through. They had people insisting that we get out of there as soon as possible. Outside, you know, we could here some of the mob people yelling to each other and screaming things at us
it just seemed like sort of a nightmarish situation they weren't ever going to give up and there were questions if some of us thought we would ever get out of there but I had an obligation to try to contact my newspaper to let them know exactly what was going on we had a national edition going to press on the night. Eventually I got the nerve to go outside and dial on a pay phone there. So I could talk to the editor, the night editor there and tell him I was okay and ask him to call my wife and tell her of that I was ok. I just uh felt that eventually something had to break in our favor and
I suppose that happened when Joe Perkins finally reached the minister over in Birmingham, Reverend Shuttlesworth and he promised that he would send some cars over to pick us up. And so we just sat around then waited around there. I don't know how much treatment the people got who were in other rooms there because I remained pretty much in the emergency area but eventually the cars came, they identified themselves and some of us were a little reluctant to get into those cars until we had a chance to see who was there and I particularly talked to the driver of the car that I was going to be riding in and I was pretty sure that didn't unarmed to pick us up although I know later that
Reverend Shuttlesworth had warned them not to take any kind of weapons which would have been in line with their nonviolence policy, but this was not a nonviolent night. there and eventually they got us out of there and it seemed like we caught every red light on the way out of town but after awhile we were out on the dark road on our way to Birmingham. We get to Birmingham and most of us ended up out at Shuttlesworth's church. The mob people were still hanging around. They were outside the church, threatening us and menacing us us you know it just seem as if they wouldn't go away. so eventually things broke up at the church that night, they went various homes and stayed and the next morning we went up to
the bus station to get out of there and of course there were mob people around there too. We had to make our way through them to get into the bus station and now we find out that the new bus driver wasn't willing to take us any further. So we're pretty much stuck there. they were making contact with Robert Kennedy, the attorney general and he was calling everybody trying to get some protection for us and the people down there they weren't cooperating at all. We couldn't get any buses out so eventually it was decided that we would raise some money and fly out. [Interviewer-yes just want to get that sense, to keep much eye contact as you feel comfortable...what happens next
I say again this was a sorry bunch... this people are still coughing, they got smoke inhalation,you know there's people with... bandage but what they want to do to talk about getting on the bus... the next day]. So now it's Monday and we gather at the bus station there in Birmingham and we find out that none of the bus drivers are willing to take us, they said it's too dangerous to go any further with the Freedom Riders. We had people there we only had some of the Freedom Riders there the others were on the Trailways bus that had gone on to Birmingham. They a vote, they were discussing things, some some wanted to continue. The problem was they couldn't continue on the buses because we didn't have any drivers so that was pretty much out of the question.
The idea that came of,where was to fly to Birmingham. I mean, I'm sorry, to fly to Montgomery. And continue, that was pretty much wiped out because the airline flight that we were gonna take take got canceled so eventually after all the discussions they decided the best thing to do would be to fly on to New Orleans and that became a problem also, we got out to the airport and you wouldn't believe it but those mob people were still there. They were following us around some of us, particularly myself, I would stand against a wall, stand against one of the big poles in there so your back couldn't be open to somebody coming by and smacking you something
which they were trying to do. Some were still outside, some were still inside. At this particular time they didn't have the situation where you just walked out of the airport interior and go right on to the plane. You had to go out onto the tarmac get onto the plane. These people were outside the airport area there, sitting area. they were yelling, cursing, carrying things, trying to hit us as we went out to get on the plane and after that we eventually got on the airplane. [Interviewer-...for a second... water, ok so you're in the airport and this mob is outside and then so say again, you finally hear there's a plane that's going to take you you to New Orleans?] Right. And uh once we were ready to board the plane to New Orleans we go outside and starting walking toward
the plane, which is out on the tarmac and along the edges of the building that we had to walk past to try to get to the plane they were still out there and they were still fired up they was still trying to whack us and they were still calling us names and that sorta thing and eventually we got to the plane and settled in and everybody got a little relaxed and then we get the this call saying there was a bomb scare and we had to get off the plane,everything had to be checked out. But we had to walk back through these people again as they was still hanging around and it, it became sort of mob I don't know, sorta of a situation where you had this nightmarish feeling that they would never go away but we got in there and eventually
they worked out some deals so a special plane was arranged and we were able to fly out. as approaching midnight or something like that It was probably 2 o'clock or something before got into Birmingham, I keep saying Birmingham, we got into New Orleans. They had the big mass meeting in New Orleans there. Jim Pegg [?] and one of the Freedom Riders who also had gotten beaten up pretty badly went on to New York to talk about what had happened to us there. [Interviewer-Hold on, just go back a quick second, How did you feel when you finally get on that second plane and you start rolling down the runway. And you know that feeling when you get airborne, how did you feel?]
Well I tell you, when we finally got aboard and started lifting off it was a real feeling of relief you look back at what you're leaving behind and contemplating a better situation ahead. And it was a joyous feeling. It was a great relief to get out of there. And then we got down there and we started hearing the stories about what happened to the people on the other bus. And the horror came back again. That was a sort of situation a mentioned earlier when I said you never knew what the police would do.
- American Experience
- Freedom Riders
- Raw Footage
- Interview with Moses Newson, 2 of 3
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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- Moses Newson is one of four journalists who accompanied the Freedom Riders on the initial ride that left Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961 headed for New Orleans.
- American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
- (c) 2011-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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- Moving Image
Release Agent: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: barcode357604_Newson_02_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1280x720.mp4 (unknown)
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- Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Moses Newson, 2 of 3,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-b27pn8zb5z.
- MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Moses Newson, 2 of 3.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-b27pn8zb5z>.
- APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Moses Newson, 2 of 3. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-b27pn8zb5z