Beyond the textbooks

“Hate Bus,” 1961

Photo Credit: AP Photo/The Atlantic

“George Lincoln Rockwell, center, self-styled leader of the American Nazi Party, and his “hate bus” with several young men wearing swastika arm bands, stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 23, 1961, en route to Mobile, Alabama.”

A bit of background behind this photo. George Lincoln Rockwell was the founder of the American Nazi Party and a Holocaust denier. Additionally, he was a white supremacist and thus against the Civil Rights Movements. When the Freedom Riders began their journey to desegregate the Deep South’s bus stations, Rockwell bought a Volkswagen van and turned it into a “Hate Bus” by plastering swastikas and pro-white slogans all over it. They drove it around the Deep South, putting on rallies and speaking engagements with the Ku Klux Klan. The photo above was taken on May 23rd, three days after the Freedom Riders were assaulted at the Greyhound Bus Station in Montgomery.

While Rockwell was for racial segregation and believed other races to be inferior, he wanted to form associations with the Nation of Islam. He believed religious leader Elijah Muhammad was the “black people’s Hitler.” Rockwell also admired Malcolm X and believed he (Malcolm X) was the true leader of Black America. Malcolm X did not feel admiration in the slightest for Rockwell. In 1965, while Rockwell was on another “Hate Bus” campaign in the South, Malcolm X sent him the following telegram:

This is to warn you that I am no longer held in check from fighting white supremacists by Elijah Muhammad’s separatist Black Muslim movement, and that if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm to Reverend King or any other black Americans who are only attempting to enjoy their rights as free human beings, that you and your Ku Klux Klan friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who are not hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence, and who believe in asserting our right of self-defense – by any means necessary.

The “Hate Bus” was later repossessed after a loan default.


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