Interview with Wyatt Tee Walker
QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

I NEED TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE NIGHT OF…THE MOB SURROUNDED REVEREND ABERNATHY'S CHURCH IN 1961. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THAT NIGHT, THE EVENTS THAT HAPPENED?

Wyatt Tee Walker:

The night that the mob attacked Abernathy's church was during the break in the delayed Freedom Ride. Do you remember? The buses went to Anniston and got burned and bombed. And the students in Nashville led by Diane Nash, Bevel, and John Lewis came to Montgomery to pick it up. They said that they shouldn't allow terror and violence to stop it. And the SCLC gave the students their support, and we were in a rally that night at Abernathy's church. I guess it was a Sunday night as I recollect. And this mob of Klansmen and other sympathizers came with a couple of truckloads of cinder blocks and they took sledgehammers and broke ‘em into pieces. Their strategy was to throw teargas into the church and flush us out, and as we come out they would stone us with the broken pieces of cinderblock. In the midst of this, around 10:30-11:00 o'clock, we were surrounded and Dr. King instructed me to get Bobby Kennedy on the phone. You know, we had our own sense of propriety. Dr. King was the President of SCLC and John Kennedy was the President of the nation, and in a sense I was Dr. King's Attorney General so the Attorney Generals should talk to each other. So I called Bobby Kennedy and told him that our lives were in danger and there was this mob out there, and he told me he had sent the FBI and tell me, it's hard to tell the FBI from the people in the mob, these federal—federal marshals. And then he asked to speak to Dr. King, so I let him speak to the President, you know, and somehow, Dr. King got what I thought was a weird idea, that the only way to satiate the frenzy of this mob was for the leadership to go out and give ourselves up. And I knew this man was crazy, but…even though I was scared to death and didn't want to go I went on out there with him. About the time we got out there the teargas was flying and a brick flew over Dr. King's head, and hit Fred Bennett on the ankle and, then a teargas canister came and Fred picked it up and threw it back at the mob. And by the time we got around front, these 400 marshals against this mob of a couple thousand somehow repulsed them. So that's why we didn't die that night. And we stayed in that church all night long and left at daybreak the next morning under the cover of the National Guard, which during those early morning hours, Bobby Kennedy had federalized under Brigadier General Graham, as I remember.

[unintelligible background conversation]