An Alabama police chief apologized to the Freedom Fighters for failing to protect them during a trip to Montgomery in 1961.
The apology brought Rep. John Lewis, who was part of the group, to tears. Lewis and other civil rights activists were beaten by a mob when their bus arrived at Montgomery’s Greyhound station in May of that year.
Montgomery’s current police chief, Kevin Murphy, apologized at a ceremony at First Baptist Church on Saturday, reports NBC News.
Murphy also gave Lewis his badge as an offer of reconciliation for what Murphy described as “unjust laws” being enforced against the Freedom Fighters.
Lewis is a long-time Georgia congressman. He was arrested several times during civil rights protests across the south. But Saturday was the first time a police chief had apologized to him for the treatment he received more than 50 years ago.
The ceremony at First Baptist Church was part of the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama. The event began on Friday with a trip to Tuscaloosa, according to The Montgomery Advertiser.
There, the 27 participants recognized the 50th anniversary of Governor George Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” protest against racial integration at the University of Alabama.
Attendees then visited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where four black girls were killed in a bombing in 1963. Saturday saw the ceremony at First Baptist, where both Murphy and Lewis spoke.
When talking about the decision to apologize to Lewis and other Freedom Fighters, the Alabama police chief stated:
“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 added that the apology should have been given a long time ago. He added that the voice of the Police Department should be “heard in a different light than what history has recorded in years past.”
With the Alabama police chief’s apology to the Freedom Fighters, including Rep. John Lewis, Murphy’s hope is starting to come true.