Freedom Rider Sala Udin Wins Presidential Pardon

Sala Udin / YouTube Screengrab

A former Freedom Rider who went on to become a congressman had his sentence commuted by President Obama after more than four decades.

In 1970, Sala Udin, was pulled over on a Mississippi road after dropping fellow Freedom Riders off in Cleveland, Miss. But he was found with an unloaded shotgun and a jug of moonshine. He was sentenced two years later to seven months in federal prison.

After his prison stint, however, Udin continued to fight for civil rights, first serving on the Pittsburgh City Council, along with co-founding the city’s New Horizons Theater, and starting the House of Crossroads drug treatment program. He later won a seat in Congress representing Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

But the stigma of having a federal conviction on his record still hung over him all these years. Until Monday when Obama included Udin’s name among the 77 to whom he gave presidential pardons.

“It’s a second chance, and I think — for most crimes — people deserve a second chance. Some of them would mess up again, but most of them would take full advantage of a second chance,” Udin, 73, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It only takes a minute to make a mistake, but it takes a lifetime to try to undo it.

In addition to providing Udin with a presidential pardon, Obama also gave 153 commutations (lessening of sentences) for a number of different crimes including selling or possessing drugs. President Obama has performed more clemency actions than any other U.S. President, including Lyndon B. Johnson who previously granted the most.

Image: Sala Udin / YouTube Screengrab