Freedom Rider speaks in Dinkytown

Peter Ackerberg spoke at the Southeast Library for Black History Month.

Peter Ackerberg , was a âÄúFreedom RiderâÄù in Mississippi in 1961 and in celebration of Black History Month he spoke at the Southeast Library on Saturday. Freedom Riders were the men and women who challenged state segregation laws in Jackson, Miss. in 1961. It was illegal for bus and train stations to discriminate, but most did not uphold the law. More than 300 people were arrested and convicted of the charge âÄúbreach of the peace,âÄù Ackerberg was among them. As a student at Antioch College in Ohio, Ackerberg knew there was segregation in the south, but he couldnâÄôt believe it so he went there to see for himself. He had heard of Freedom Riders getting badly beaten at bus terminals. âÄúThis was revolting to me,âÄù Ackerberg said. At the age of 22, he went to a gathering at a church in Montgomery, Ala. with about 1,500 others, including Martin Luther King. A crowd of white people gathered outside the church and the threat of violence called for federal marshals to try to keep the crowd under control. Ackerberg later found out that King was in the basement of the church on the phone with then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for more protection. This resulted in the National Guard being called in. He said tear gas started coming in the open windows of the church. Ackerberg said King assured the crowd in the church that everything would be all right. It wasnâÄôt until 4 a.m. the next morning that they were escorted out of the church by the National Guard. Ackerberg went to his apartment and thought about what happened. He said he wanted to be able to tell his children some day that he took a stand and did something. It was then that he decided to join the Freedom Riders. He said he was taking a calculated risk, but since Kennedy was discussing peace with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at the time, Ackerberg didnâÄôt think Kennedy would allow the Freedom Rider situation to get out of hand. Ackerberg described himself as a participant and an observer. The black people he was riding with were willing to die for the cause, which he admired. âÄúI didnâÄôt want to die,âÄù he said. He said He thought about World War II and was happy to be doing what he knew was right in the historic event of his time. He was arrested in Jackson, Miss. and charged with âÄúbreach of the peace,âÄù a charge that was later dropped by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Ackerberg said that when President Obama was elected, he felt proud to be a part of the long road of history that led to that moment. Ackerberg worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star for 17 years and then worked in the Minnesota state attorney generalâÄôs office until he retired in 1999.