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When a young Southern Baptist pastor named Alan Cross arrived in Montgomery, Ala., in January 2000, he knew it was where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his first church and where Rosa Parks helped launched the famous bus boycott, but he didn't know some other details of the city's role in civil rights history.
Two of the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activist John Lewis and a white ally, James Zwerg, were beaten unconscious.
Racism from the pulpit
Less than three weeks after the 1961 attack on the Freedom Riders, Montgomery's most prominent pastor, Henry Lyon Jr., gave a fiery speech before the local white Citizens' Council, denouncing the civil rights protesters and the cause for which they were beaten — from a "Christian" perspective.
James Henley Thornwell, a Harvard-educated scholar who committed huge sections of the Bible to memory, regularly defended slavery and promoted white supremacy from his pulpit at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., where he was the senior pastor in the years leading up to the Civil War.
The Southern way
Lyon's opening prayer before the white Citizens' Council meeting in Montgomery included words starkly reminiscent of the Civil War era.