☞ Buy the new improved expanded paperback edition!

Westbrook Pegler: ‘The Miserable Fraud Called Freedom Riders’

Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969) is back in the news. A major syndicated newspaper columnist from 1933 until 1962, he’s currently enjoying a micro-moment, thanks to being quoted anonymously by Sarah Palin in her convention speech (Thomas Frank has the details in this WSJ column.) Although early on Pegeler supported President Franklin Roosevelt, he soon moved rightward and began attacking FDR and the New Deal as a communist plot. He was ferociously opposed to unions, the Civil Rights movement, and was a supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He was also, according to Ben Smith at Politico, “bounced from the journal of the John Birch Society in 1964 for alleged anti-semitism.”

In June 1961, Pegler made his way to Jackson, where the chief of detectives escorted him into the city jail to meet Freedom Riders. His column appeared in the June 16 edition of the Jackson Daily News. (See a scan of the column here.)

Defeated in Jackson: Noted Columnist Bares Riders’ Smear Attempt

Editor’s note – The distinguished columnist, Westbrook Pegler, last week paid a visit to Jackson to see for himself what effect the so-called freedom riders were having on the city. Here is a column he wrote following the visit.

By Westbrook Pegler

JACKSON, Miss. – It is a mocking comment on the mawkish generosity of the American character that the bands of insipid futilities of the type called bleeding hearts can invade one of the finest American cities and arouse a howling national uproar of indignation, disgust, pity and shame. This the so-called freedom riders have done in Jackson, a really fine American city.

Its history and moral and patriotic traditions have been watered by the blood of heroes who have defended their homeland against a hot-eyed aggressor, incited by blood-thirsty Boston patrioteers, and its reputation has been smeared by enemies in New York who live by hate while yowling their pity for victims of hatred.

In Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., surprise caught the police off guard, and these errors were studied in Jackson for the peace of the community and the pride of a sensitive homeland. There may be other American cities as tender of their precious heritage, but New York in not one of them. There are only a few native families whose members love New York with the unspeakable affection that inspires Jackson, the capital of Mississippi.

I know of Irish in New York whose immigrant forebears were socially and racially almost unemployable within the last century who still doggedly love their harassed and degraded city, but every hour, and at almost every corner, they seem to remember tha New York is not a beloved home of conscientious people as Jackson is, but a mysterious labyrinth of sinister strangers who fear one another.

Today I went to city jail to try to learn from some of the prisoners taken in the miserable fraud called Freedom Riders just what freedom they desired that was denied them.

Most of them come from Northern communities where they may associate freely across the color line, which has no existence. A white man or woman can go to a public toilet in a bus station without the slightest notice, to say nothing of opposition. So they decided, under organized incitation from offices in New York, to travel a thousand miles to deprive themselves of that freedom and invite personal assault by taunting the people of Jackson.

Mr. M. B. Pierce, the chief of detectives, took me up to the city jail and the first prison who was let into a little bare room was a pale, frail boy of 21, Charles David Myers, of Noblesville, Ind. He had sprigs of wispy whiskers and the start of beatnik sideburns although they all are allowed to shave. He said he was a Quaker whose soul suffered at the thought of someone (God, of necessity) had created a difference between him and his dark brethren. So he put himself into Central State College at Wilberforce, Ohio, with 2000 students, formerly all Negroes but now infiltrated with 200 whites.

It does not follow that 1800 Negroes enjoy such a bore or feel that assimilation to Myers improves their condition.

His father is a laborer and his mother is a household servant. Their family life is pleasant and poverty is not their lot.

Why had he come to Mississippi – possibly to strike a spark of hatred to light a holocaust in an innocent community of human beings? I asked him if he had ever heard of the Chicago race riot stated by such a spark when a white boy hit a Negro boy with a thrown stone at Hyde Park beach. Did he know that 500 innocents were hurt and 30 died for that mere mishap? He had never heard of it.

Myers was arrested on May 28, 1961, at the Trailways bus station. After graduating Central State, he worked as a newspaper photographer for several years, then as a photographer, reporter, editor and producer at WHIO-TV in Dayton, OH, until he retired in 2002. Today he lives in Ellenton, FL, with his wife, Winonah, who was also a Freedom Rider.

David and Winonah Beamer


4 Comments

Mr. Myers, I am so proud of your work. It is exemplary. Thank you,

MG

Posted by Mario on 12 September 2008 @ 7pm

Charles David Myers is an American hero. He makes me proud to be an American.

Posted by Dennis M on 12 September 2008 @ 10pm

Mr. Myers is one of the many heroes whom I admire and respect. I would love to meet him and wife one day. As a matter of fact I will look them up so I can send them a thank U card.

Posted by Kimberly on 15 September 2008 @ 6pm

Blessings on you and your deep respect for justice.

Posted by Aurelio M. Montemayor on 10 November 2008 @ 1pm