This year, our nation is remembering the Freedom Riders of 1961 from 50 years ago. Those of us in Anniston are recalling the tragic burning of a bus transporting brave Americans who were challenging the South to end segregation and repression of black Americans. The Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County now has a display of photographs from the ’61 incident.
This is important for young black Annistonians who did not live through the years of Jim Crow and humiliation of their ancestors under slavery and segregation. Their elders need to pass the memory on to them, mouth to ear, and these young people need to continue to do so for their children. If they forget their history, they take the chance of reliving it for real. More important, they will not be able to empathize with those who suffer from prejudice here and elsewhere. They will give up the chance of standing up for justice for those of a different color, religion, nationality or anything else that makes people different from them.
White Annistonians should also recall these events as if they were there. All were changed. Some of those who beat Freedom Riders on the bus or threw firebombs have realized how wrong that was; they should pass that learning on to their children.
Some actively helped the Freedom Riders; they should pass their experiences on and encourage future generations to remember 1961 as if they were there. Some reacted to this sad event in the history of our community by creating community institutions like COUL (the Committee on Unified Leadership) to address the cancer of hatred and prejudice; they need to recount their experiences to their young.
Most were simply observers, divorced from the events of 1961; they must accept what they did not do and their reasons for just standing aside, and explain that to their children. That may be the greatest lesson for us all.
Daniel E. Spector lives in Jacksonville.