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Floyd Mann was the head of Alabama's Department of Public Safety during the Freedom Rides and was instrumental in saving riders from vicious attacks.
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Born on August 20, 1920, in Daviston, Alabama, Floyd Mann worked in law enforcement and became his home state's public safety director, appointed by John Patterson. The Freedom Rides' efforts to desegregate interstate travel was met with brutal violence, and Mann jumped into the fray to protect riders during the 1960 attack in Montgomery. Doing later university work, he died on January 12, 1996.
"Well, I certainly knew, as director of public safety my responsibility was law and order and to protect those people [the Freedom Riders]. ... I, uh, certainly decided that my best course was to follow my responsibility and to try to keep law and order in Alabama, which I certainly did try."
"At that point they set the bus [in Anniston] on fire, the Klansmen did. Those people on the bus could not get off the bus, and if we had not had the state investigator on the bus, I think everyone on the bus would have burned to death."
"Well, when they began to get off the bus [in Montgomery], people began to attack them, and looked like it just coming out of all, everywhere, just mobs of people began to appear at the bus station, that's when we immediately sent for the 100 state troopers ..."
Floyd H. Mann was born on August 20, 1920, in Daviston, Alabama. He eventually joined the military and served in World War II as part of the Army Air Corps, receiving commendations and becoming a colonel.
Mann wed Grace Doss of Texas in the autumn of 1944.
Upon his return to the states, Floyd Mann attended the National Academy of the FBI and took to law enforcement, working as police chief in the city of Opelika for most of the 1950s. Towards the end of the decade he was appointed to run his home state's Department of Public Safety by newly elected governor John Patterson, who had strong segregationist ties.
The year 1961 marked the start of the Freedom Rides, a movement headed by the Congress for Racial Equality, or CORE, to formerly challenge segregation on Southern intestate bus travel, already technically illegal. Upon their travels to Birmingham and Alabama, the riders had faced horrifying violence, with some of the activists badly hurt.
Mann had opposed the idea of police forces aiding racist zeal instead of following the duties of law enforcement. He had also been privy to much of the regional political machinations around the rides. Mann worked with others to place an investigator on one of the rides to Aniston who ultimately helped save citizens from being consumed by fire in a Ku Klux Klan attack.
After getting later information that Montgomery's own police officers were going to take the day off with the arrival of a Freedom Ride bus from Birmingham, thus abandoning their duty and offering the Riders no protection, Mann had 100 state troopers placed on standby at the police academy.
Upon the bus reaching Montgomery on May 20, 1961, a huge swarm of attackers besieged the riders, with federal operative John Seigenthaler knocked unconscious and others beaten bloody and running for their lives. Mann ran into the crowd by himself with his weapon and demanded a stop to the attack, immediately saving the badly battered Jim Zwerg and future Congressman John Lewis from continued assault. Mann had called for backup from his sequestered force, though some of his own officers were insubordinate.
The Montgomery attacks and resulting injuries gained international notoriety and further framed the harsh injustices faced by civil rights workers, with President John F. Kennedy sending over federal marshals. In a later interview with The Tuscaloosa News, Mann stated he was afraid yet his actions were "just a matter of doing what had to be done." The Freedom Rides ultimately helped to change the parameters of interstate travel.
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