1961 May 14

Jim Peck, Freedom Rider, Assaulted in Alabama


Civil rights activist and pacifist Jim Peck was a participant in the 1961 Freedom Ride to desegregate bus travel in the deep south (May 4, 1961). On this day, he was brutally assaulted by members of a racist mob when he stepped off the bus in Birmingham, Alabama. (See the separate event on this day, May 14, 1961, for the attacks on the Freedom Riders in Anniston, Alabama, and the burning of the bus they were riding.)

Peck needed 53 stitches in his head. He was initially denied treatment at Carraway Methodist Medical Center, a white segregated hospital, and was finally treated at Jefferson Hillman Hospital. The FBI, though an undercover informant, had advance knowledge of the planned attacks, but did nothing to stop them. In Birmingham, the attacks were abetted by Police Chief “Bull” Connor, who became notorious for his role in the major civil rights demonstrations in that city (see May 3, 1963 for the incident involving the use of fire hoses and police dogs against civil rights demonstrators).

In 1983, Peck was awarded $25,000 in damages from the FBI after it was revealed that the FBI knew of plans for the attack in Anniston but did nothing to stop it (December 9, 1983).

In 1947, Peck had been arrested in first freedom ride, the Journey of Reconciliation, which began on  April 9, 1947.

Read his account of the Freedom Ride and his beating: James Peck, Freedom Ride (1962)

Watch an interview with Jim Peck after the beating:

Read James Peck’s autobiography: James Peck, Underdogs and Upperdogs (1969)

Read about the Freedom Ride: Ray Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)

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