King requests that the U. S. attorney general initiate an “immediate investigation” into the mistreatment of Fred Shuttlesworth's three teenage children, who were arrested on 16 August for refusing to move to the back of an interstate bus in Gadsden, Alabama.1 On 2 September assistant attorney general Harold Tyler replied: “You may be assured that the matter is receiving the Department's careful attention and that appropriate action will be taken should it develop that violations of federal laws are involved.” Two weeks later, Alabama juvenile court judge W. W. Rayburn found the Shuttlesworth children guilty of delinquency and placed them on indefinite probation.2
to: atty. genl. william p. rogers
department of justice
request immediate investigation of violation civil rights children aged 13,14 & 17 years of rev. fred shuttlesworth while enroute from monteagle, tenn. to birmingham, ala. aug 16, 1960 via greyhound bus.3 children were asked to move to rear of bus for segregated seating at chatanooga, tenn. they refused. at gadsen, ala. drver called police and had children arrested. were subjected to police brutality in jail.4 these facts confirmed. forthright action by your office most necessary in view of obvious intent by some persons, and public and private agencies to continue denial of civil rights for the negro and his equal protection and justice under law.
martin luther king, jr., pres
208 auburn ave. — room 203
1. King sent similar telegrams to the chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the president of Greyhound Lines (King to John H. Winchel and King to F. W. Ackerman, both dated 18 August 1960). The wire to the Greyhound official included an additional line: “If some positive action is not forthcoming it may be necessary to call on leaders across the country to join in boycott of Greyhound to make it undeniably clear we will not spend our dollars with a company that does not respect our person.” Greyhound official H. Vance Greenslit replied that it was “not the policy of Greyhound Lines to interfere with the seating of interstate passengers” (SCLC, Press release, August 1960). In a 24 August letter to Roy Wilkins, Wyatt Tee Walker broached the idea of a conference between representatives from the NAACP, CORE, and SCLC to discuss ideas “to correct the many discrepancies of interstate and intrastate travel in the South with Greyhound.”
2. Immediately following the 16 September hearing, Len Holt, the attorney for the three Shuttlesworth children—Patricia Anne, Ruby Fredericka, and Fred Lee, Jr.—announced that he would file an appeal (“Delinquency—Alabama Style,” Southern Patriot, October 1960). On behalf of his daughter Patricia, Shuttlesworth filed a nine million dollar lawsuit against Southeastern Greyhound, but the suit was dismissed in November 1961 (Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 273 Ala. 713).
3. When arrested, the children were traveling from a youth workshop at Tennessee's Highlander Folk School to their home in Birmingham. In 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled segregation on interstate buses unconstitutional (Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373).
4. An SCLC press release detailed the physical abuse of the children: “One of the girls was slapped by policemen and Fred, Jr. was choked when he came to the defense of his sister.” Wyatt T. Walker, in Alabama at the time of the arrests, saw the children and reported that “there was an obvious swelling and bloodshot condition of the younger daughter's eye that required medical attention” (SCLC, Press release, 29 August 1960). For additional details on the children's arrest, see Patricia Shuttlesworth et al., Interview, 20 August 1960.
RWP, DLC, Roy Wilkins Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.