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terrorizing was you know they were at before dawn i don't often attorney general and un he has received word from npr national that another wave of free riders is coming down to birmingham from nashville to continue the free lunch and he said to me and the hell is diane nash year from nashville and i said man this is a student i think a junior at fisk so she is the leader of this and new car and proper and so when you say in those stop this and by the way because at that point you don't know that isn't waiting no
one is so on sleepers before dawn mindful motel room rings and it's a gentle gentle annie opened the conversation who the hell is diane ravitch and i explained to him that she was a key leader in the sit ins and that for over the years are there the journal and he said will she is responsible for and directing another wave of freedom riders that are coming down to nashville calls are and let her know what is waiting for them and tell her she must not do this and so i called her he had a number and i'm sure you got it from the fbi and they're still an eye color and it was it is the ways of the store and sort of a dog online match and i open the
conversation by telling her who i was and where i was and where i began and what i had seen and i said i understand that there are more freedom riders coming down from nashville you must stop them if you can and it was so i was speaking in a conversational tone of their friendly tone i had hoped that perhaps you remember me as a journalist you had with david halberstam coward dissidents in nashville her response was well the free riders have left and their own way and i couldn't call me back if i wanted to blood they're not going to turn blue and running and only there sure
i they get back my voice raised a dozen wall and i explained what i had seen him birmingham an airport when i walked in they are beaten frighten people who had narrowly escaped death and so i spoke during stern tern was a strident tone meantime those overtones in those for july the trees standing by a lot of hunting when she would not be moved and and i and i thought my voice was another possible and another and soon i was shouting young woman do you understand what you do and you're going to get some but you understand you're going to get somebody kill and i'm
sure you know we all sun are left wilcox and customs last night before they left we know someone would be killed but we cannot let pilots overcome nonviolence that's virtually a direct quote a word that came out of a child laugh your unofficial it and i sit on rugs and the presenter john bought into and student fisk university and she never quiet but strong way gave me a lecture she was not in the mood you and i don't make an effort and so i'm
a medical intern zone tom and i had failed to do so now when you said you know you seem to see the earth and also of this growth is going down there and they just refused so from my point of view now there's nothing to do with it except what exciting news you just don't okay so there's nothing to do but to head back in birmingham barons so now there's nothing to be done for example back in birmingham
nintendo says the money out there as quickly as you can and put all the time i get there they're all incarcerated bull connor eugene bull connor bull connor the police commissioner of birmingham who prefers to be global rather than eugene has been in jail and now lead attorney joe is trying to reach to go on trying to reach the go both on the talk to me as if i were a juvenile delinquent it was coarse and crass and soul singer both the president and bobby and then model and i think i knew that
the students in his jail or the same students goodman in jail in nashville bruce ivins i knew he was going that night's a prayer and singing ah that a jail all night long with the biggest disrupted that the dealers wouldn't sleep at the inmates' wouldn't sleep there as kids were right where they expected to be a little intimidated by jailing been there before i couldn't explain that to arm i make contact with the fbi agents in birmingham and met with fred shuttlesworth who was a minister follow the southern christian leadership conference in birmingham and handguns and he was making an effort to visit them and to get a mountain i guess was the second night in birmingham still no
contact with the governor and the fbi call me at the motel and will reopen soon the freedom riders were all been taken out and two i said kidnapped amanda and said well we think commissioner connor it has taken them in a motorcade <unk> unintelligible come with above that a new book on the wall of random so we were all i was desperate and records what happened was that the alcon gotten tired of having women is to you know you want that level
and they wouldn't let marvin pritts of war that aren't made an effort to make landfall a wooden leg on and so you know you took them back to the dusty line and open i've just given that just a little bit more nimble contact tired and paris at a thousand and carson you so much arun so what happened was that the that book on assembly gotten fed up with the freedom riders piece for another violent but agitating they stayed up all night and they sang and they prayed and they talked and they the aggravated him and he thought it ravishing oboe and so you
take some put them in cars and all they go to that the sea lion worried also grim for the iraqis don't call themselves john person is now available and is willing to talk to you and so i for a car and i drove from birmingham to montgomery late in the afternoon and i remember walking up the steps of the state capital and looking the obama campaign is suing the stars and bars flying above the store the joint i knew what i love where i was and what i was walking into that he welcomed me in is all the storm after a state policeman as going into his own
curtis' insurance it took me to a table across from his desk around which he had a cabinet office soon he said that they were sown is right and he began to lecture me about how outrageous the actions of the president were how outrageous the actions of the attorney general more that he john patterson had taken a stand against these rabble rouser its end that he was more popular by four with people across the country not an alabama boat across the country and then jack kennedy and then his desk was filled with history said the stack the letters that high the lawless country who know when i write about this issue and jack and bobby are undermining law enforcement in this country again day and he just
a pound the table and lectured me bob and i had developed a strategy i was to say to pass a look give them safe conduct to the state line because mississippi from micah muzio of problem but i had it into it was several minutes maybe ten minutes before you stop berating me about how president and attorney joe warr responsible for engineering the free market and i listen to latin and took it and the first time he took a breath doesn't look of this is just a simple if you can't provide them protection and you say you can't you know leave us any option will have to provide protection for
and it will have to be us marshals or tropes and you dont want that and i don't want them in and then and certainly the present attorney general don't want that he said you playing marshall the obama and blowing the street it was the very first opening on hand and i said don't look around the streets of madison hello mr sundy sure that we don't want that again i don't know it took him back but he turned immediately to a man seated across the table and said that's for nan my commissioner of safety for him tell this man these rabble rouser they're asking for trouble and we can't protect them i know
and it was somber and i thought really an hour on you can be alone in deployment he didn't get out of bed in over the boat was almost no visible from going on the lord for small mali view doma to protect them or protect it so beer aisle room them and there was a silence you know for an important i'm sure there was no time to any other mammal that can ever did challenged the government bought a man with a professional resource and i think john really was taken aback by the end he did he did it who's not angered by he
was possible for how could you do that and florida man said well the police cars in front of the boston police got behind the bus and i'll have police officers on the books and we'll have an airplane over the bus we will tell them protect these people and they will protect them go this was put to john patterson in a bit of a bind and he begins to think about what would you have done anything in a bubble collar police commissioner in berlin he's thinking about commissioner sullivan in montgomery has the political problems and so he says while foreign if you think it can be done work it out with bull i was so on will protect all the highway state highway let them protect him inside the city limits and that's and that alone that's the resolution that the government
obama promised in that conversation disagreement and debate well so is so so now we've had a revolution and now we work out a statement that will raise the press and statements say from the governor says we will protect all citizens residents of alabama and i'll lose all my way and elsewhere to end i said i needed to kelley attorney general that we've reached this agreement you so want to sit at my desk and so you know and i walk over and sit at the desk <unk> and he comes and stands directly in front of me and i called the attorney general is waiting i say you honestly <unk> know utopian
body knows me and so i read the statement to mom and he says the john wayne and i have the phone away from it a slightly so the rebels and can hear it yes by me i mean it and so i said no i'll released this statement to the press outside he said ask him if he would mind co telephoning the president a greyhound i was talking to move in earlier and he lost the bus in alabama and he's worried about losing another bus and he's were trying to fun driver for the bus because the drivers are all frightened and if they don't reassure him it would be helpful the governance of course i'll call and not the number down
and run i write often but come in and sat down and his distended call program and did have a conversation in which he fully reassured fully reassured the program of the bus would not be hard oh wow it was our only available so so that has an agreement with is where you you won't even have a as i thought about the next day frankly i was i was feeling very good about was over again i know i know will call once those kids out of the city i know for a man
is trustworthy and they worked it out with a commissioner in montgomery and so i'm so i would have been that night back in birmingham feeling very good about where we were and what the future was and the next morning that however i got no idea what they paid him the freedom riders had anticipated that this was going to be a riot in which the driver stopped at every schedule town along the way and they would have that chance to go into the terminal in each town friday did the lunch counter which they would not be able to do a trial a bathroom which they wouldn't be able to do and then get back on the bus and they go the next town of john doolittle betty years or rights division was in town and he and i decided we would ride together in my little car
on to montgomery and we anticipated running down saying and take the bus from a survey and we would drive back mission accomplished again and so nora last hour by car and this bust ago the driver would not about to stop in a place this was going be an express bus and i understand he was scared out of his wits i'm john and i thinking we had time stopped for breakfast all the way down and riot at the federal building where john had a meeting that day which incidentally was almost a budding the greyhound bus station was small alleyway that separated from dilley from the bus terminal and as i let john doerr out at the federal building suddenly we heard screams
and shouts we looked up to the windshield and you see baggage being thrown in the air you hear screams suddenly i looked ahead and white men were chasing the black kids across the street in front of me a couple i'm john ryan for the federal going to call attorney general i move with the car up to and the bus trying to take a view my throat was in my mouth i my heart was in my throat i was and a new family motor oil disaster this their core so john rushes to college and a gentle inside of illinois i move the car
slowly this fall as we pull out yet known as when we pulled up to the job knowing which was just across the alleyway from that was john doe overlord and somewhere in this really terrible screams and shouts and i looked up through the windshield and baggage wasn't thrown into the air hurl into the air and i knew immediately worst fear violence they had met with violence there had been a betrayal and i said to john one quick call bomb tell him what happened he leapt out race for the vulnerability i drove up the street and as i pass the journal looked out on the parking lot a greyhound
it was a teeming and he'll allow unhindered from out of nowhere this mob had come i don't know how many hundreds and and then you could be any good just ms see and hear and feel the brutality of that mob as they've set up on these kids it i could see classes here in their word beings were going on a couple of the other kids started and from a car i got up to the alleyway turned to my turn to write again and coming down the other side of the street i had no idea how bad it was done on people just being mall and i feared murdered and suddenly as i can down a street thug i looked and there are two young freedom riders who have been surrounded by maybe a dozen or fifteen people and and they are being beaten it to
young women and both white and and no one is slightly ahead of the other and there is a there isn't this game a young kid and a t shirt i remember he had a set package of cigarettes rolled up no independent in the t shirt sleeve and he was summoned dancing in front of this young woman clutching her and i could see as you journey ahead blood from the nose and now the other woman was slightly behind or an and shooting shouting jostle that they were really focusing on the young woman in front of what woman was getting over the purse it's your head and i thought you know i can get them out and sundown towns the pollock or blue law and opened the north that i yell to the woman and the young woman in the rear get in the backseat and she did she move toward a backseat i couldn't get around the crowd then code and around the car i couldn't get quite
to the young woman who was bleeding and but i'd rather buy the rift over the vote of a carport were around have there right at the door and said get him and she put her hands up on the door jam and said mr i don't want you to get hurt on non violent trying to take this please don't get hurt will be fine pitcher as a macarthur an end at that moment they wheeled me around with a couple of guys so i never got a lookout on that was just a flesh you know only hit me right there with a pipe and i never did knock out in my life no i'm an unconscious i think just all about a minute and i think i felt it when i hit the ground they would kick me under the car and left me there i was there for twenty five minutes before and i woke
up it was cleared later as i thought about that commercial sauna given them i have an hour before you have police officers come to the same when i woke up arrows shooting you know the first thing i noticed was i had borrowed and the grownups several is not borrowed one of john doe's shirts and nose down in the seat and cursing us or just just blown drenched shirt and i think from my first all of the dorm really pissed off at me and i'm like i looked up a list lieutenant and he said it looked
like a ransom for money he had gotten me out among the current later brought me around put me in the majesty i had not want a coat i thought this is going to be a quick expressed her down expressed their back for me i left my coat in a motel i had no identification her reporter's notebook which iowans care in my back pocket and he had a notebook he can tell who it was he says a buyout can call for you at our days now and dizzy grassley come and they weren't out suggests you i had the good sense to say yes you could call mr kennedy and he said well which who and i said look at the president and attorney general the numbers are in the noble and i'm not known what would fill
American Experience
Freedom Riders
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Interview with John Seigenthaler, 2 of 3
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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John Seigenthaler was a native of Nashville, TN who worked as a newspaper reporter at The Nashville Tennessean prior to working as a special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. As special assistant to the Attorney General, Seigenthaler initially served as the intermediary between the federal government, the Freedom Riders, and white segregationist state officials.
Race and Ethnicity
American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
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Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with John Seigenthaler, 2 of 3,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 20, 2019,
MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with John Seigenthaler, 2 of 3.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 20, 2019. <>.
APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with John Seigenthaler, 2 of 3. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from