May 24: On This Day in 1961, U.S. Attorney Gen. Robert Kennedy Declared ‘Cooling Off Period’ After Attacks Against Freedom Riders

0 Posted by - May 24, 2022 - CIVIL RIGHTS, LATEST POSTS, On This Date

By Victor Trammell

Photo credits: The Federal Bureau of Investigation

A group of Freedom Riders left Montgomery for Jackson, Mississippi on May 24, 1961. Hundreds of fans met the activist passengers there. Those who tried to use the whites-only facilities were arrested for trespassing and sent to Parchman, Mississippi’s maximum-security prison.

On that exact day, US Attorney General John F. Kennedy immediately released the following statement in response to the rising violence, advocating for a de-escalation timeframe:

“A very difficult condition exists now in the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Besides the groups of ‘Freedom Riders’ traveling through these states, there are curiosity seekers, publicity seekers, and others who are seeking to serve their own causes, as well as many persons who are traveling because they must use the interstate carriers to reach their destination. In this confusing situation, there is an increasing possibility that innocent persons may be injured. A mob asks no questions. A cooling-off period is needed. It would be wise for those traveling through these two Sites to delay their trips until the present state of confusion and danger has passed and an atmosphere of reason and normalcy has been restored.”

During the Mississippi trials, a judge turned away from the Freedom Riders’ defense and stared at the wall, as had happened in Tennessee when sit-in participants were jailed for protesting segregated lunch counters. He gave the cyclists a 30-day prison term.

The convictions were overturned by the United States Supreme Court after a successful appeal, which was filed by attorneys with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights group.

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