As the head of Alabama’s Department of Public Safety, Floyd Mann was massively involved in saving riders from brutal attacks during the Freedom Rides of 1960.
Name: Floyd Mann
Born: August 20th 1920
Occupation: Law enforcement
Place of Birth: Alabama
Floyd Mann was born in Daviston, Alabama, on 20th August 1920 and died on 12th January 1996. He was a member of law enforcement and played an instrumental role in the protection of riders during the brutal attacks in Montgomery in 1960.
The attack was caused due to the Freedom Rides’ attempts to desegregate interstate travel and during the violence, Mann – a white police official from Alabama – endangered his own life to protect the riders in the fight for desegregation.
As a child, Mann was schooled in both Davidson and Alexander City, Alabama. Later, he joined the US Army Air Corps and served throughout World War II, where he became a colonel and was honoured with numerous awards for his service including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After serving in the military he served as a security officer for Republic Steel – one of the largest steel producers in the United States – and then went on to become a police officer in Alexander City where he climbed the ranks and became a lieutenant.
Between 1950 and 1958 he was chief of police of Opelika and, in 1959, he became the director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
Public Safety Director
After attending the National Academy of the FBI and working in Opelika as police chief for the majority of the 1950s, Mann was appointed as Alabama’s Public Safety Director, by John Patterson – the newly elected governor with strong segregationist beliefs.
In 1961, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), started the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on bus travel in the south. Although segregation was already technically illegal, the beliefs in the south were still extremely strong and, with white segregationists in control of the majority of law enforcement, it was an issue that continued.
The aim of the Freedom Rides was to challenge segregation but during the rides, participants – both black and white – faced a horrifying ordeal as they were met with brutal violence.
Mann was involved in a police force of segregationists and despite opposing the idea of aiding the racist hate, he was overruled and police officers ‘took the day off’ and all white ambulances had ‘gone in for repair’ on the day of the attacks.
Refusing to shirk his duty, Mann worked to place an investigator on one of the rides, who helped to save riders from a fire attack by the Ku Klux Klan.
When he found out about Montgomery’s police officers taking a day’s holiday, abandoning their legal duty and offering riders no protection, and the fact that a lot of the violence had been organised by police officials, he drafted in 100 state troops and placed them on standby.
When the riders reached Montgomery on May 20th 1961 the riders were attacked by a swarm of mobsters with iron bars and baseball bats. The scene was horrific and activists were looking to kill. Mann ran into the crowd firing warning shots and demanded an end to the riots. Although there wasn’t an end straight away, he did manage to save a battered William Barbee, a young black man, who had been hit to the ground by mob members shouting “kill him! Kill him!”
Jim Zwerg was another man who was saved by Mann’s intervention that day, he had been badly beaten during the riots and after a taxi driver refused to escort him to hospital and the police wouldn’t allow Zwerg to travel to hospital until a white ambulance arrived (something that would never have happened because they had all ‘gone in for repair) Mann ordered one of his patrolmen to drive him to hospital, where he survived his injuries.
The police arrived ten minutes into the riot but took no action until they learned of Mann’s involvement. At that point the State Attorney General and Judge Jones took charge, but rather than demanding an end to the riots, they began to read the Judge’s injunction to the badly hurt Freedom Riders. At this point, Mann, defied authority and called for the troops he’d placed on standby. Their arrival restored order in the town.
The attacks in Montgomery were seen internationally and it highlighted to the world, the injustices still faced by civil rights workers. However, when asked about his actions, Mann said it was “just a matter of doing what had to be done.”