Museum opens in Montgomery to honor Freedom Riders

By the Associated Press | May 20, 2011 | 4:29 PM EDT

Freedom Riders Jim Zwerg, left, and Rep. John Lewis, right, hold hands during a prayer at the opening ceremony of the Freedom Riders Museum in downtown Montgomery, Ala. on Friday May 20, 2011.(AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Freedom Riders who were attacked in Alabama's capital city in 1961 have returned 50 years later to be hailed as heroes and have a museum dedicated at the old bus station where they were confronted by an angry white mob.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia says he teared up when he walked through the station where he was beaten on May 20, 1961. He says the celebration Friday shows how far the nation has come.

When the Freedom Riders set out to integrate bus stations in 1961, then-Alabama Gov. John Patterson called them fools. But the 89-year-old Patterson welcomed them Friday and said they deserve credit for making America a better place.

Friday marked the first time Patterson and the Freedom Riders had met.