The plan … was simplicity itself. In any sane, even half-civilized
society it would have been completely innocuous, hardly worth a
second thought or meriting any comment at all. CORE would be
sending an integrated team—black and white together—from the
nation's capital to New Orleans on public transportation. That's
all. Except, of course, that they would sit randomly on the buses
in integrated pairs and in the stations they would use waiting room
facilities casually, ignoring the white/colored signs. What could
be more harmless … in any even marginally healthy society?
MAY 21, 1961. It was Sunday night on the New Frontier, and freedom was on the line in Montgomery, Alabama. Earlier in the evening more than a thousand black Americans, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and several other nationally prominent civil rights leaders, had gathered at the First Baptist Church (Colored) to show their support for a visiting band of activists known as Freedom Riders. Located just a few blocks from the state capitol where President Jefferson Davis had sworn allegiance to the Confederate cause in 1861, First Baptist had been the setting for a number of dramatic events over the years, but the historic church had never witnessed anything quite like the situation unfolding both inside and outside its red-brick walls. For several hours the Freedom Riders and the congregation sang hymns and freedom songs and listened to testimonials about courage and commitment. But as the spirit of hope and justice rose inside the crowded sanctuary, a wholly different mood of defiance and outrage developed outside.
By nightfall the church was surrounded and besieged by a swelling mob of white protesters determined to defend a time-honored system of racial segregation. Screaming racial epithets and hurling rocks and Molotov