Shocking photo created a hero, but not to his family
The mob was already waiting for James Zwerg by the time the Greyhound bus eased into the station in Montgomery, Alabama.
Zwerg accepted his worst fear: He was going to die today.
Only the night before, Zwerg had prayed for the strength to not strike back in anger. He was among the 18 white and black college students from Nashville who had decided to take the bus trip through the segregated South in 1961. They called themselves Freedom Riders. Their goal was to desegregate public transportation.
Zwerg's parents had forsaken him for joining the civil rights movement. That same night, he had written a letter that was to be handed to them in case he was killed. It explained his decision to join the Freedom Riders.
What happened next would furnish the civil rights movement with one of its most unforgettable images. Photographers eventually broke through and snapped pictures of what the mob had done to Zwerg and another Freedom Rider, John Lewis. The pictures were broadcast around the world.
Zwerg looked like a bloody scarecrow. His eyes were blackened and his suit was splattered with blood. After he was hospitalized, a news crew filmed him in his hospital bed. Barely able to speak, Zwerg declared that violence wouldn't stop him or any of his friends. The Freedom Rides would go on.
Zwerg became one of the movement's first heroes. Although his physical wounds healed, the emotional ones took longer. He was wracked with guilt and depression after the beating. He drank too much, contemplated suicide, and finally had to seek therapy.... ......
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