The First Baptist Church in Montgomery holds the goal to honor the Lord and care for all his people. The church held the same objectives, during the Civil Rights Movement. It was one of the most important safe havens for the Freedom Riders, those who participated in the effort to remove segregation from bus routes. On May 21, 1961, the church was attacked by 3,000 people who wanted to set it on fire, because of the movements being made to move forward in removing Jim Crow laws. Standing their ground and with the help of the National Guard, everyone in the church building was able to make it to safety.
Established in 1829, the First Baptist Church was one of the first black churches in the Montgomery area. About a century later, it became one of the significant locations for the Civil Rights Unit connected with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Freedom Ride in May 1961. Between 1952- 1961, First Baptist Church was led by civil rights activist Pastor Ralph Abernathy. His friend Martin Luther King Jr., headed over their neighborhood church Dexter Avenue Baptist (1954- 1956). Both churches worked together to achieve their goals of ending segregation.
About the Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a civil rights protest where African Americans refused to ride city buses to object the segregation bus system. It was a thirteen month massive protest that concluded in the U. S. Supreme Court finalizing that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. About four days before the protest, Rosa Parks, an African- American women and activist, was fined and arrested for rejecting to move off the bus for another white man. The news of the boycott was extended among African- American leaders throughout Montgomery. Ministers shared the news of the boycott in church on December 4th. There were around 40,000 black bus riders that denied to go on the buses and walked until their demands were met on December 20, 1956.
About the Freedom Ride of Spring 1961
The First Baptist Church was a safe haven for the brave men and women who took part in the Freedom Rider movement. From May up to November 1961, men and women simply road the public buses and trains in the south. However this time, whites sat in the back and blacks sat in the front. They purposefully violated Jim Crow laws in many different ways to protest segregation. More than four hundred black and white Americans risked their lives, imprisonment and underwent savage beatings for participating in a nonviolent movement.
On May 14, 1961, the second freedom Trailway vehicle arrived in Birmingham, Alabama. Riders were beaten by a mob with weapons like metal pipes. Bull Connor, Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner, said he knew the Freedom Riders were coming, and anticipated violence waiting for them, and provided no police protection because it was Mother’s Day. The next day, the beaten and bloody Freedom Riders were on the front page of the news throughout the country and world. The Freedom Riders’ cause and the violence committed against them was broadcasted for the world to see.
More About the Church
During the time the First Baptist Church served as a safe place for the Freedom Riders, the filled church was attacked by 3,000 armed people who were ready to demolish. Word got around that Dr. Martin Luther King was coming to address the church, and honor the Freedom Riders. After what happened on May 14 with the beatings of one group of Freedom Riders, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the Justice Department sent a representative to escort King. The personnel provided on hand with experience in riot training made immediate travel plans to Montgomery to arrive by ay May 21, 1961.
Mobs were preparing to burn the church to the ground and hurt the congregation. The main concerns were the deputies was Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy. U.S. Marshalls secured the borders of First Baptist Church with reinforcements coming just in time to prevent a disaster from “hostile” people. However, “bricks and tear gas was thrown through windows.” Dr. King called Robert Kennedy using the churches phone and was able to get Governor John Patterson to order the Alabama National Guard to disband the mob. Everyone was guided safely out of the church in the morning after spending an intimidating night in their safe haven.