Interview with Frederick Leonard


Frederick Leonard:

OK. Well, we were in the terminal in Birmingham, and what happened here was, I think all of us wanted to believe that we will be taken back to Tennessee like the first group was, but uh, that didn't happen. Um, the sherriff was there, we had plenty of protection, police everywhere—the Klan comes through with their guns and their robes and everything, but we felt safe because they just walked past us, they didn't hassle us at all. And so we were there about maybe uh, a couple of hours before the bus left for Montgomery and when we left going to Montgomery, everybody was relaxed, no problem. We had police escorts, they followed us down the highway, felt comfortable— going into the terminal in Montgomery, everybody was feeling comfortable, we didn't see anybody, but we didn't any police either. And then all of a sudden, just like whoosh, magic, white people, sticks and bricks. "Nigger! Kill the niggers!" We were still on the bus, you know? But I think we were all kind of deciding—well, maybe we should go off at the back of this bus, because we kind of knew that if we had gone off at the back of the bus that maybe they wouldn't be so bad on us. They wanted us to go off the back of the bus. And we decided—no, no, we'll go off the front and take what's coming to us. We went out the front of the bus, Jim Zwerg was, white fellow from uh, Madison, Wisconsin—he had a lot of nerve. And I think that's what saved me, Bernard Lafayette and Allen Kasen, ‘cause Jim Zwerg walked off the bus in front of us and they was so, it was like they were possessed, or they couldn't believe that there was a white man who would help us, and they grabbed him and pulled him into the mob, I mean it was a mob. When we came off the bus, they were so, their attention was on him. It's like, like they didn't see the rest of us, for like about maybe 30 seconds, they didn't see us, they didn't see us at all, and we were, we, we were held up by this rail, there was a rail right there, at the bus station, parking lot down below, cars down there – and then when they did turn toward us, we had a choice, about 10 or 15 feet below. We could stand there and take it or we could go over the, over the rail – over the rail we went, me and Bernard Lafayette, and Allen Kasen, always carried his little typewriter, always had his typewriter – over the rail he went, on top of a car, hit the ground, took off, ran into the back of this building. It was the post office and the people were in there carrying on the business of just like nothing was happening outside. But when we came through there, now mail went to flying everywhere cause we were running** – went out the other side of the post office, first thing we saw was a black dr… cab driver. We waved for him, cause we all had Reverend Shuttlesworth's address and telephone number, cause we, we felt we would be divided and this will be where we would meet. He wouldn't stop for us, but it was a strange thing on the other side of that post office, it was just as peaceful, just like a Sunday morning. Maybe another minute later another black cab driver came by and he picked us up and took us Shuttlesworth house, and that's where we heard the news about Jim Zwerg, about John Lewis, about uh, William Barby. William Barby was damaged for life really, Jim Zwerg for life. It's amazing that they're still living, they could have been killed.** I think what saved them was, this white fellow who was in the crowed shot a gun in the air and if it was not for him, they would be dead—Jim Zwerg would be dead, Bernard Lafayette—all of us would be dead. Is that good? I'm dramatizing it too much.