Earlier this year, Rep. John R. Lewis received the Free Expression Lifetime Achievement Award from the NEWSEUM in Washington, D.C. (see story on front page). He was honored, in part, for his actions as a Freedom Rider in 1961. Below is star civil rights reporter Moses J. Newson’s coverage of the Freedom Riders being beaten in South Carolina simply for registering African Americans to vote.
Freedom Rider Passes the Test
May 20, 1961
Rock Hill, S.C. –Freedom Rider Albert Bigelow looked violence square in the face her and kept trying to show love to his attacker.
The 55-year-old Connecticut artists-architecht was one of three of CORE’s 1961 Freedom Riders in the first outbreak of violence on the bus tour.
Other victims were John R. Lewis, 21, Nashville ministerial student, and Miss Genevieve Hughes, 28, CORE field director.
Bigelow, a wealthy Quaker and Ghandi quoter, is a firm believer in the Quaker phrase, “There is that of God in every man.”
The night after the beating a Greyhound bus terminal , he told a mass meeting: “I think people like these are confused friends… I tasted a little this afternoon (the beating) of what Ghandi called the sweetness of the absorption of the opponent’s violence.”
Even after he was struck several times and knocked to the ground, Bigelow tried in vain to talk the matter over with the one assailant identified. “If this man yesterday has that of God in him, there must be some way I can reach it,” he told the AFRO.
“I’ve got to understand that the truth, as he sees it, is just as real to him as my truth is to me,” explained Bigelow. “I tried to surprise him with moral justice.”
What Mr. Bigelow—who has read all his wife’s psychiartirst nurses’ aid books—wanted to say to his attacker was: “I understand why you acted as you did but I think we might reach a better understanding of each other by thinking about it. I’d like to enlarge his horizon.”
Thinking the matter over later, Bigelow confided to the AFRO that “under the circumstances maybe this was not the time to reason with him.”
He further concluded, “They will only understand direct action.”
He described direct action as “to do something you have a right to do, irrespective of the results.”
With that, Bigelow was ready to move further into the Deep South—doing something he has a right to.
Neither he nor the other 12 now know what the results will be.