Thursday, May 20, 2010

400 U.S. Marshals Sent to Alabama as Montgomery Bus Riots Hurt 20; President Bids State Keep Order


400 U.S. Marshals Sent to Alabama as Montgomery Bus Riots Hurt 20; President Bids State Keep Order


Force Due Today


Agents to Bear Arms -- Injunction Sought Against the Klan





Washington, May 20 [1961] -- The Federal Government dispatched 400 marshals and other armed officers to Alabama tonight to restore order in areas that were torn by racial violence.


The Government acted after a mob of white persons attacked a racially mixed group of bus riders in Montgomery, Ala. The disorders lasted two hours. At least twenty of the riders were beaten.


Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy announced the Federal action in a telegram to Alabama officials. He said it was necessary to "guarantee safe passage in interstate commerce."


Marshals Due by Noon


The 400 Federal marshals will be in Montgomery by noon to-morrow, a Justice Department spokesman said. He said they would have arm bands for identification and would carry sidearms as well as tear-gas bombs and riot clubs or night sticks.


Mr. Kennedy disclosed also that he would ask the Federal Court in Montgomery "to enjoin the Ku Klux Klan, the National States Rights Party, certain individuals and all persons acting in concert with them from interfering with peaceful interstate travel by buses."


A Justice Department spokesman said that there were reports of Ku Klux Klan and Negro groups converging on Montgomery County and that he was afraid of larger scale problems than had already developed.


Attacks Deplored


The Attorney General acted immediately after President Kennedy issued a statement deploring the mob attacks.


The President said the situation in Alabama was "a source of the deepest concern to me as it must be to the vast majority of the citizens of Alabama and all Americans."


"I have instructed the Justice Department to take all necessary steps," the President added.


He called on Gov. John Patterson of Alabama and other state and local officials "to exercise their lawful authority to prevent any further outbreaks of violence."


"I hope that state and local officials in Alabama will meet their responsibilities," the President said. "The United States Government intends to meet its."


The President said he hoped that all persons, whether citizens of Alabama or visitors, "would refrain from any action which would in any way tend to provoke further outbreaks." His brother, the Attorney General, said that this was not intended as a suggestion to the bus riders that they give up their trip, but was a general appeal for restraint.


The Justice Department said that it was sending marshals and specially deputized marshals to Montgomery from near-by areas and from the District of Columbia.


They are already on the way by air and automobile, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said.


Byron R. White, the Deputy Attorney General, went to Montgomery to take charge of the operation there.


Justice Department officials emphasized that no members of the armed forces were being sent.


This was in contrast to the action of President Eisenhower in 1957. Paratroopers were sent then to end violence over school desegregation in Little Rock, Ark.


The marshals were dispatched to Alabama under authority of an 1871 statute which also had been the legal basis for the sending of troops to Little Rock.


The statute says that the President may use "the militia or the armed forces * * * or any other means * * * to suppress in a state any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy" under certain specified conditions.


These conditions are that a class of citizens is deprived of a constitutional right "and the constituted authorities of that state are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right."


Telegram Dispatched


Robert Kennedy announced his action in a telegram sent to the Alabama public safety director, Floyd Mann, and the Mayors of Birmingham and Montgomery, besides Governor Patterson.


In the telegram Mr. Kennedy reviewed discussions that he and other Justice Department officials had had with the Governor and his aides since Monday about "this very explosive situation."


He noted that just last night his own administrative assistant, John Seigenthaler, had met with the Governor and had been given the assurance that the state government had "The will, the force, the men and the equipment to fully protect everyone in Alabama."


He added that the Governor had suggested the Justice Department notify the Greyhound Bus Company that a guarantee of safety had been given by the state.


"It was based on his assurance of safe conduct," the Attorney General telegraphed Governor Patterson, "that the students boarded the bus in Birmingham on their trip to Montgomery. These students boarded the bus this morning. They arrived in Montgomery and were attacked and beaten by a mob."


The suit that Mr. Kennedy said was being brought to enjoin interference with interstate travel was a most unusual legal step.


Ordinarily the Justice Department cannot bring an injunction suit unless there is a specific statute authorizing it to do so, and there is none here.


However, in 1895, in the landmark case of In Re Debs, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Government had inherent authority to go to the courts to break up any violence interfering with interstate commerce.


The issue at that time was a railroad strike that had shut off the mails. The United States got an injunction against the strike and then prosecuted some of the strike leaders, including the Socialist Eugene V. Debs for contempt of the injunction. The Supreme Court upheld the contempt prosecution.


The Debs case stands as a rarity in American legal history. A Justice Department authority said today that it was on the basis of the Debs ruling that the department was asserting the power to go into the Federal courts and enjoin individuals and organizations in Alabama from interfering with interstate travel.


The Government's moves this evening were planned at a meeting that lasted all afternoon in the Attorney General's office. President Kennedy, who flew to his country home in Middleburg, Va., in midafternoon, kept in touch with his brother by telephone.


Attorney General Kennedy was called into his office from an F.B.I. baseball game where he was throwing out the first ball. He was in shirtsleeves and still wearing a baseball cap as he conferred on the critical situation in Alabama.


In the conference were virtually all the top advisers except those who happened to be out of town.


They included Mr. White and three of his assistants, Joseph F. Dolan, William A. Geoghegan and Clive W. Palmer.


Three assistant attorneys general were in the conference -- Burke Marshall of the Civil Rights Division, Herbert J. Miller of the Criminal Division and Louis F. Oberdorfer of the Tax Division.


Representing the office of legal counsel was Harold F. Reiff.


From the Attorney General's personal staff were his executive assistant, Andrew F. Cehmann; the chief of public information, Edwin O. Guthmann and David Hackett.



Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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