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zoo yeah this is a situation where mob violence once you have a mark i'm focused on target you know you never know how that was going to turn up and uncertainly king and fred shuttlesworth in and the other leaders understood that this was this was something that leighton very very badly and a massacre there you have a number of situations where from their experience they know what moths can do you know you have them all around central high school in fifty seven hear from our own that attack three the freedom riders bus and all these cases you know if it gets it's remarkable that that people were killed
because saddam certainly that was you know since part of the mob day there were people who wanted people to die also also this was so you know one of those things that came very very close to a disastrous event that could have changed the course of a movement well that is set thousands of years in the last hour the boss for one and one of the things that that that is so evident doubt that that situation is that it was not just a matter of the fear of the mob on the outside
but the fear of panic on the inside and you can imagine how any of us would feel trapped in a church with a bomb the violence that is going on and the hatred that is being expressed by them on the outside and that uncertainty about whether you're you're ever going to get out of there and so part of the the task of the leaders was to calm those fears and to convince the people that they would survive this and they couldn't land their sheer overcome the necessity of showing that they had the courage to stand up to a mop so so this was this is a crucial test of what the leadership of the movement it
is striking as the extent to which all the leaders didn't succeed and calling those fears alan were able to convince people that i hope that somehow this situation the weasel old home without extensive violence perhaps because it was in a church in alberta that that sense of faith well prevail ultimately it didn't have a wide spread panic among the people in the church and so so i think that that was a demonstration of both the extent to which no there was a sense of courage a willingness to stand up to mob violence that was demonstrated in montgomery
at this point he says i think the kennedy administration understood that sending federal troops into the south was a huge psychological barrier because of the legacy of the civil war and reconstruction you know that's what the south had always sought as its low point the white so i hope that the federal government has occupied it and then had to impose its rules on the south through military force and the notion of doing that in the nineteen sixties was still a major point of contention that list the south had during the nineteen fifties had had pushed the notion of love resisting federal control states' rights versus federal power as baz as an emotional issue as something that would
rally our southern white voters and so all southern politicians practically all of them have accepted the notion that the basic part of their politics was resisting federal intervention in the cell so the kennedys understood that that's what they would be up against they would they would run into the opposition of even those white democratic politicians who supported the kennedy administration and that was something that they didn't want a risk so i said yeah yeah and audie the only president who had come in that the bullet on that and then eisenhower and sending the troops into little rock and of course that had made governor faubus enormously popular as the southern governor was standing up to federal military
intervention and so i think the kennedys understood that he would be creating florida is getting it southern white politicians who were present themselves as as long as standing up to federal intervention and and resisting it and that this would again defied the democratic party that would make it impossible at the national level for the kennedys to get what they wanted through congress where they have this opposition from southern white politicians the sea they're trying to defuse the issue is that the kennedys' responses was to try to find a middle course try to defuse the issue driving
relieve the pressure on by first of all he's a federal marshals who really weren't prepared for this kind of law enforcement duties there were very few of them to begin with and they they did what they could but the idea of sending federal troops and i think they'd much prefer to help alabama national guardsmen center and because at least that would be the state troops about the alabama song troops coming to the same and then and i think that that was there at the middle course they would they certainly prefer one if you can get over this this notion i think on bobby kennedy understands that that protect his task is to get the governor of alabama to do
bobby kennedy understands that his task is to get that the governor of alabama to do what it is supposed to do and that is to enforce law in order in the state of alabama trying to do that the blues was very difficult because the governor didn't want to to really intervene anything on but i think that ultimately i think both of them decided that it would be much better if there has to be an intervention the governor really interesting it get heated i'll stand aside and let the culture of speed broadband and then criticize the kennedys were doing that or he could do it himself at least half the benefit of avoiding federal drug felon attention and he chose the latter one because i think that there was still a sense at that point that these southern white politicians were still somehow hoping that they could work with the kennedy administration that the civil rights issue
would not be such a divisive issue that it would totally break apart the democratic alliance ms stromberg yeah and so something about the thinking is on a path a place well in king is trying to get federal intervention he entered he would like to get some kind of protection i'm not sure if he would have trusted and alabama protection but i think bobby kennedy wants to find another way of dealing with this he would rather work out a compromise with governor paterson so that paterson would be using state troops to do this and then the kennedy administration would not be vulnerable to a charge of federal
not know turnout occupation the south but i think ultimately man bobby kennedy comes to convince patterson that either you act or i'm going to act as better for both of us if you are i don't think that bobby kennedy alternately understands that he has to convince governor paterson that either the governor's current act or the federal government is going to intervene as better for both of us if you act and you use your own troops to resolve the situation in montgomery all this just to why i think is one of the time somewhere in another different generations the different perspectives
and all coming together they're an alabama during that time i think that what happens is that you begin to see that the different perspectives and how can they have a different response to what has happened in alabama now the young people want to go in one direction martin luther king once you on another direction fred shuttlesworth is sympathetic to the young people so all all of this our shows the detentions and the world at this point they're not really divisions but you can see differences of perspective i think the young people he had always wanted king to join their movement and a king hadn't been inspired all of the students who were bitter sometimes and not in the sense of the aisle
that distance in atlanta had wanted king to join them on a on a sedan and finally got them got them to join them and i said i'm so of course the students wanted king to join in the freedom rides he was the he was the person who i am and because they have all admired they saw that a king or join that was legitimate their entire movement that would bring attention to it from the press but it was not to be one thing and this is something that i think that is difficult for many people to understand because of king's reputation as being the leader of the movement that he was very cautiously here he understood worked on the clio difficult it was for him to protests appeared in civil disobedience and he understood what was at stake for his own reputation for his own organization if he got involved in the
movement and that he didn't control on it i think king in his heart probably wanted to join the freedom rides but i think it is mind he understood all the drawbacks of becoming involved the fact that he would not only go to jail but if you went to jail he might go to jail for a long time he could be doing other things while he was in jail and maybe from the point of view of the students that's what it should have done because by going to jail he would draw national attention to the movement but i think he saw very different way ok all right no they weren't sympathetic with his explanations for why he didn't want to join them you know they had they have prohibitions that they were facing they understood that they might be
going for longer terms and in fact many of the students have already committed themselves to the idea of jail no bail so very i believe that it was the job of love someone who truly believed in gandhi and nonviolence to go to jail and stay in jail serve out their sentences for king he had already demonstrated that after he was arrested and regional in atlanta he had a horrific experience for nature he thought it was going to die there he'd he didn't know exactly where they were taking and he did not want to repeat that experience so on so as much as he felt philosophically sympathetic to the students i i think that this is a case where his his mind was overcoming his heart
well i think that down that was partly because of martin luther king when he was explaining why he wouldn't go on the freedom rides compared himself to jesus and the sense of seeing in and felt as the person facing crucifixion and our purpose and that he wanted to choose the time of his head it is the ultimate sacrifice and in what students on presuming to make that choice for him so i think that when he tried to explain why he wouldn't go i think he lost a certain amount of stature among some of the students i think that from that point on they didn't quite admire him as much as they had before and that was something that did not come in a bit but that sense of disappointment was was never overcome and i
think it it shed into some of the splits that would come to you please and a lot of those well they might as well be well i think in the end things explanation for why didn't guarantee he came across as kind of speaking as as if you were let jesus you know that he he was talking about his own sacrifices own personal sacrifice as opposed to understanding that they were sacrificing just as much and so i think after our activists there was a tendency to see him as someone who was i am kind of
pretentious and that in that respect of someone who thought that his sacrifice was somehow greater than the sacrifice of others finally the riot thank you well remember which one i mean the one where they were taken of the border finally finally it you know you have this massive car so well i think that and at a certain point every all the white officials the kennedy administration the state officials made the decision that this is a crisis
that's got again and the way we end it is is basically by getting the freedom riders out of the state and they want to get them to the border of alabama and i'm over in mississippi and there's already some arrangements there but you know this is this is a way they see this issue being diffused so it goes away from the headlines and to a large degree it does that is yeah finally they decide that the freedom rides in alabama helped come to an end this is too much of a crisis on tv yeah so and is that a certain point the kennedy administration and
the state of alabama make a decision that this is this crisis as hester grant and the freedom riders have to be taken out to stay and soy and i think at that point everyone makes a decision that it's going to move to the next station and so there's protection to the alabama border they're handed off to the mississippi police asked a police now i think that at a certain point the kennedy administration and the state officials in alabama make a decision that the crisis has to come to an end they do what they could have done a literalist they said is they provide the maximum protection so that they will get the freedom riders out of birmingham
to the border between alabama mississippi and announce that's what they do i don't know and at a certain point the kennedy administration and the state officials in alabama make a decision that this is a crisis that has to end and that they need to defuse it and what they do is they decide to do what they could have done in the first place and that is provide the protection and necessary to make sure that the freedom riders get from montgomery to the border of alabama mississippi safely you have so he did it they owe anything
to unionize and you know what it is well once they get into mississippi then where you are faced with the reality of coming to them once they get into mississippi then their face with the reality of facing segregation and a strong response i think they always wreck recognize that if you crack mississippi to crack the deep south and doug ross barnett has prepared for them and wants to teach them a lesson don't come to my state again and downplayed the lesson is i'm going to send you to a real prison to parchman penitentiary in to do a hard time in mississippi naacp and it was not to be a city jail this is going to be you know like the a reputation of yourself where people the workings of
the reputation of parchment was was pretty rustic so so i think that the freedom riders knew that they were they were facing something really strong but by that time they're looked at they had faced up to the reality of mob violence and they were going to be deterred by going to a prison and i think that there's you know there are actually was realized that disease that we can do more i think in particular railroad ross barnett bought the parchment would break the freedom riders i think what it really did was to
provide a confirmation of everything that they had been through oh they faced down the alps they had feared gone through all the violence in alabama so when they get to a mississippi than the notion of going to a prison even a prisoner's harshest as parchment is it is not something that's going to deter them instead and it's something that becomes they source of unity because now in parchman penitentiary you have the best of the best of all the protest movements in the south these are the the ones who have had the experience from the citizens lose the ones who have been through the freedom ride experience in alabama and and mob violence that they faced there so now they get into mississippi they have a chance to in prison yes and i think that the freedom riders on parchment became a school and i suppose
as jail does for for many revolutionaries throughout the world the way they saw the us as a challenge on that they were prepared to to meet them because they had been through the experiences of love mob violence and they had overcome baton and now they were in this cell part in penitentiary which was a tough place to be on but they saw this as a way of coming together as their home these are the people who prove themselves and their local movements now they were making contact with each other so that john lewis would be the stokely carmichael and you know all these people from different parts of the self we're we're finding out that there were students just like him and other regions in and i think after that they are understood that this was going to be a long struggle but they have to sign a country of people who had proven themselves and had
dedicated their lives to bringing about change well i think at the end it becomes kind of an anti climax because when when you think about the kennedy administration are thinking that they can resolve the issue by by saying well we're going to go to the interstate commerce commission and really get a ruling in forcing desegregation of interstate commerce well they could have done that from the very beginning and in fact they could've done that from the nineteen forties are because they have the legal authority to do that the icc on its own problem but it took this crisis it took the freedom rides in order to force the hand of the federal government and i think that's a lesson wealthy young people learned is that the federal government that it's one thing to have the supreme court it's one thing to have
all these legal challenges but ultimately you need to have the power of a protest movement to force the federal government to act one minute it i mean it sounds like a lot of that respect and this is something that could have happened with this but should you all the icc could do would be to send out a a ruling which it did to allow them all the people involved in interstate commerce saying it's easy i think at this point and bobby kennedy understood that you needed to take some action to get the pronounced ahn an interaction that it took was one that he could've taken earlier but he decided to do it now and that is to go to the art interstate commerce commission
American Experience
Freedom Riders
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Interview with Clayborne Carson, 3 of 4
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Clayborne Carson is an African-American professor of history at Stanford University, and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.
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American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, segregation, activism, students
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Chicago: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 3 of 4,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 9, 2020,
MLA: “American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 3 of 4.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 9, 2020. <>.
APA: American Experience; Freedom Riders; Interview with Clayborne Carson, 3 of 4. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from