I am very happy for the people of Alabama that they have at least one public official who understands history and the importance of acknowledging it, and I am thrilled that Rep. John Lewis lived to see it:
An Alabama police chief brought Rep. John Lewis to tears Saturday, apologizing to the noted civil rights leader for failing to protect the Freedom Riders during a trip to Montgomery in 1961.
Lewis and fellow civil rights activists were beaten by a mob after arriving at Montgomery’s Greyhound station in May, 1961.
On Saturday at ceremony at First Baptist Church, the city’s current police chief, Kevin Murphy, apologized to Lewis and offered him his badge in a gesture of reconciliation, telling the longtime Georgia congressman that Montgomery police had “enforced unjust laws” in failing to protect the Freedom Riders more than five decades ago.
Lewis, who was arrested during civil rights protests in cities across the south, said it was the first time a police chief had apologized to him.
“It means a great deal,” Lewis said. “I teared up. I tried to keep from crying.”
Lewis and other members of Congress were taking part in the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama, a three-day event that also included trips to Selma, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
Murphy said the decision to apologize was easy.
“For me, freedom and the right to live in peace is a cornerstone of our society and that was something that Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Congressman Lewis were trying to achieve,” Murphy said. “I think what I did today should have been done a long time ago. It needed to be done. It needed to be spoken because we have to live with the truth and it is the truth.”