A federal judge ruled yesterday that a Freedom Rider beaten by Ku Klux Klansmen in Alabama 22 years ago is entitled to monetary damages from the federal government.
The ruling was a victory for Walter Bergman, 84, a civil rights activist who claimed that the beating led to a condition that left him confined to a wheelchair for life. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Enslen said Bergman won his case by default because the government disobeyed his order to release suppressed documents sought by Bergman's attorney.
Bergman had sought $1 million in damages, but the amount to which he is entitled will be decided in later hearings.
Bergman claimed that the government and the FBI were liable because they knew there was going to be violence when the Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston and Birmingham, Ala., but failed to take protective action.
Bergman was among a group of Freedom Riders that went to Alabama in 1961 to test compliance with Supreme Court desegregation rulings.
Bergman's attorneys said the documents, which allegedly contain material so sensitive that much has been deleted or blacked out, would prove that the FBI, the federal government and Alabama police agencies knew the Klan planned to attack the Freedom Riders.