Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis received an unexpected gift during the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama. Montgomery police chief Kevin Murphy apologized for police officers failing to stop a vicious mob attack on Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders in 1961, NBC News reports.
Lewis, who was beaten and arrested more than once during civil rights demonstrations in the South, said he was moved to tears and that it was the first time such an apology had been issued. Murphy also removed his badge from his uniform and presented it to the congressman.
"It means a great deal," Lewis said. "I teared up. I tried to keep from crying."
Lewis and Murphy spoke at a ceremony at Montgomery's First Baptist Church held to mark the anniversary of another brutal attack on civil rights protesters, known as Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights demonstrators set out to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery to protest efforts to deny Blacks their right to vote. On that day, their attackers were state and local policemen, who forced them to retreat.
Murphy said the apology was long overdue.
"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," he said. "I think what I did today should have been done a long time ago. It needed to be done. It needed to be spoken because we have to live with the truth and it is the truth."
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(Photo: NBC News)
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