Walter Gerald Bergman's
and Brutal Government
by Gerald (Jerry) Bergman
(Investigator 143, 2012
Luther King Day
often makes me think of a distant relative, Walter Gerald Bergman.
Walter attended Greenville College and later earned his Ph.D. from the
University of Michigan. His claim to fame was not due to his academic
achievements, though, but for his faith motivated civil rights
people, the Bergmans have always had passionate foes" said a Parade
article by Paul Magnusson. Of all Bergman's civil rights battles
throughout the years, none was more significant than the one that took
place in a Trailways bus in tiny Anniston, Alabama. For his stand,
Walter Bergman spent almost half a lifetime in a wheel chair after he
suffered a brutal beating during the famous 1961 Freedom Ride that
began the modern American civil rights movement.
Court integrated all interstate buses and bus stations. The Congress of
Racial Equality (CORE), decided to test the Court's decision by sending
an interracial team of civil rights workers called the Freedom Riders
into the Deep South to use the newly integrated facilities. On Saturday
night, May 13, 1961, the group had dinner with Martin Luther King. The
next day two buses left, a Greyhound and a Trailways, to test the law
by integrating the buses and the restaurants.
Trailways bus driver told the seven black and three white freedom
riders when they were seated in the bus, "Niggers get to the back of
the bus. White people up front." None moved, and no one spoke. Then,
the bus doors burst open and eight white men pushed their way past the
driver. After pulling iron bars and chains from paper bags, the eight
yanked the blacks from their seats and pushed them to the back of the
Peck, a former
Harvard student, said only, "Can we talk about this?" before a fist
crashed into his face. Walter Bergman, then 61, was pushed to the floor
and kicked repeatedly in the head. Behind them, Bergman's wife,
Frances, 58, heard the sound of human flesh being brutally beaten for
the first time in her life. Frances pleaded with the men to stop. She
said later, "I had never before experienced the feeling of people all
around hating me so... I kept thinking, ‘How could these things be
happening in 1961?' "
reporter on the scene
wrote: "Bergman was battered into semi-consciousness and as he lay in
the aisle, one of the whites jumped up and down on his chest.... Peck's
face and head bled profusely, making the aisle a slippery, bloody
path." Only then did a policeman step on the bus. The first thing he
said was "You can sue if you want to, but I didn't see a thing".
Bergman and his wife,
the beating was much more than one day of terror. Doctors concluded
Bergman was beaten so badly that he suffered permanent brain damage.
Soon after Bergman suffered from a cardiac arrest. When he awoke after
several days in a coma, he could not move a muscle. He even had
to learn to read and write again.
next forty years,
Bergman had to be strapped in a wheelchair. He continued his "fight
against racial hatred and government complacency" until he died at age
100 on September 9, 1999. Raised in a strict Free Methodist home, he
was only acting on what he learned about the brotherhood of humankind,
all descendants of Adam and Eve.
suit against the FBI for its role in the beating. FBI informer Gary
Thomas Rowe Jr. testified in court that the police promised the Klan 15
unmolested minutes to beat up the riders and that "a good many
police...worked with the Ku Klux Klan." FBI agents witnessed the
beatings, even taking photographs, but refused to stop the violence.
After photographs of the bloody mess ran in newspapers, the world press
editorialized about the major gulf between the American freedom ideal
and the ugly reality.
that it had "no legal duty to protect Dr. Bergman" (Judges decision
file no. G 77-6 p. 2). They implied that it was proper to do nothing
while Klan men kicked Walter so furiously that he suffered permanent
brain damage. U.S. District Judge Enslen in his ruling for Dr. Bergman
wrote the FBI was wrong to cooperate with Klan thugs.
Bergman won the
case, but actually lost: his lawsuit was for two million dollars plus
costs, but he received a paltry $35,000 that covered only a fraction of
his legal expenses and none of his medical expenses. The court, in
effect, as the government had done before in Bergman's life, condoned