Three of the original Freedom Riders plan to make another trip to the city of Anniston this weekend – this time to be honored in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the historic rides.
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From May to September 1961, more than 60 Freedom Rides took place, during which more than 400 young Blacks and whites traveled shoulder to shoulder, challenging the Jim Crow transportation laws prohibiting Blacks and whites from sitting together on the bus. A Supreme Court ruling had struck down those laws, but cities across the South were ignoring it.
On Mother’s Day that year, Ku Klux Klansmen attacked a Greyhound bus at the Anniston bus stop. The driver tried to escape after one of the tires was flattened. When the bus had to stop again on Old Birmingham Highway, just outside of Anniston, the bus was attacked again, this time being set on fire.
Today, the two sites are recognized as part of the national Civil Rights Trail.
The city of Anniston, in partnership with the National Park Service, Calhoun County, the county’s Chamber of Commerce, Jacksonville State University and others, has planned a two-day celebration this weekend beginning with outdoor, mask-required, invitation-only events Friday outside the National Park Service building at 1031 Gurnee Ave., Anniston, 36201.
The keynote speaker Friday will be Hank Thomas, who was on the Greyhound bus that was attacked twice in Anniston. Other highlights Friday afternoon will be the Alabama Historical Commission Greyhound Bus roll-in, a National Park Service luminary at the Old Birmingham Highway site, and an announcement concerning the Freedom Riders Training Institute.
Janie Forsythe McKinney, the 12-year-old who assisted the Freedom Riders after they exited the burning bus, will also make comments. The master of ceremony will be City Councilwoman Ciara Smith.
Because Friday’s events are invitation-only, they will be livestreamed from the city of Anniston’s Facebook page.
Saturday’s events will be fully open to the public and will feature walking tours, street music, availability of the Greyhound Bus Depot Freedom Riders exhibit, and comments from Freedom Riders Hank Thomas, Charles Person and Catherine Burks-Brooks.
General Jackson, owner of the soon-to-open History Making Coffee Shop on Anniston’s historic West 15th Street, talked about the importance of marking the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.
“It’s been kept too quietly,” Jackson said. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about it. But we need to know our history, so we don’t repeat it. None of us is proud of what happened, but it happened.
“It’s important for our children to know our history,” he continued. “Young kids in college – Black and white – had the courage to stop segregation on the buses. They served time in jail just for riding the bus.”
Jackson said too many people are unaware of what happened in Anniston on May 14, 1961. “Looking at some of the situations going on today, they say we’ve come a long way,” he said, “but it seems we have a long way to go.”
IF YOU GO:
Friday – 4-8:30 p.m. at 1031 Gurnee Ave., Anniston, 36201 (Invited guests only. Masks required.)
Saturday – 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at 1031 Gurnee Ave., Anniston, 36201 (open to the public)
In case of rain – Events both days will be moved to First United Methodist Church meeting hall (The Bridge), 1400 Noble St., Anniston, 36201
For more information, call Jackson Hodges, City of Anniston public information officer, at 256-846-2044.