May 9th, 1961

Civil Rights Leader John Lewis Assaulted at South Carolina Greyhound Bus Terminal

On May 9, 1961, 21-year-old John Lewis, civil rights activist and now United States Congressman from Georgia, was savagely assaulted by a mob at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, Greyhound bus terminal. A few days earlier, John Lewis and twelve Freedom Riders, seven African Americans and six whites, left Washington, D.C., on a Greyhound bus headed to New Orleans. They sat interracially on the bus, planning to test a Supreme Court ruling that made segregation in interstate transportation illegal.

The Freedom Riders rode safely through Virginia and North Carolina, but experienced violence when they stopped at the bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and tried to enter the white waiting room together. Mr. Lewis and two other Riders were brutally attacked before a white police officer, who had been present the entire time, finally intervened. The Freedom Riders responded with nonviolence and decided not to press charges. Nearly 47 years later, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols apologized to Mr. Lewis, and in 2009, one of his attackers, former Klansman Elwin Wilson, also apologized. Mr. Lewis has said that he has no ill will toward Rock Hill: "I don't hold the town any more responsible than those men who beat us, and I saw those men as victims of the same system of segregation and hatred."