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Freedom Rider: 'We Were All Prepared to Die'

May 22, 2011 |  7:48 am

  May 22, 1961, Birmingham, Ala  

  May 22, 1961, Freedom Riders  

May 22, 1961:  Susan Herrmann, 20, an exchange student from Whittier College at Fisk University, Nashville, majoring in psychology, was one of two white girl "freedom riders" mobbed in Montgomery's race riot. Here is her account by phone to The Times of what happened.

We were all prepared to die -- and for a while Saturday I thought all 21 of us would die at the hands of that mob in Montgomery. We did not fight back. We do not believe in violence.

We were freedom riders, two white girls, one white boy and 18 Negroes, trying to ride in buses through Alabama to New Orleans to help the cause of true freedom for all the races.

We stayed with the rest of the group. The mob kept closing in and starting yelling "Get 'em! Get 'em!"

They picked up Jim Zwerg of Beloit College in Wisconsin, the only white boy in our group, and threw him on the ground. They kicked him unconscious.

Still, we didn't fight back. But we didn't believe in running either.

I saw some men hold boys, who were nearly unconscious, while white women hit them with purses.

The white women were yelling "Kill them!" and other nasty shouts.

The police came and said they would put us in protective custody. They acted like we were crazy. They just couldn't understand why we would be freedom riders. But even though they did not believe in what we were doing, they did protect us and in that sense upheld the law.


Montgomery 50 years later

  May 22, 1961, Freedom Riders  

  May 22, 1961, Freedom Riders  

  May 22, 1961, Freedom Riders  

  May 22, 1961, Freedom Riders