Anniston to commemorate the Freedom Riders
by Laura Camper
Sep 08, 2010 | 4338 views |  2 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Civil Rights Trail Press Conference
Civil Rights Trail Press Conference
The Spirit of Anniston announced the culmination of a two-year effort to lay the groundwork for a Civil Rights Heritage Trail commemorating the civil rights movement in the area.

The last of the pieces have fallen into place, said Betsy Bean, executive director.

That doesn’t mean the work is finished, she added. Spirit will continue working with its partners in the project and with the community to create signage, murals as well as curriculum and leadership programs for students in the community.

The first events introducing the trail will be in May 2011, 50 years after the historic 1961 Freedom Ride.

The Anniston-Calhoun County Public Library will host an exhibit of photographs of the attack and burning of a bus from the Freedom Ride in Anniston.

The Freedom Riders, a group of black and white civil rights activists, were riding buses through the South to protest segregation on interstate bus lines.

The ride came to a temporary halt in Alabama when the buses were attacked, first in Anniston, then in Birmingham.

The Anniston attack, in which a bus was stopped by a group of angry white residents and set ablaze, produced one of the iconic photos of the civil rights movement.

The bus riders, some badly injured flew to New Orleans a few days after the May 14, 1961attacks, but a group of students from Nashville traveled to Birmingham to pick up where they had left off.

In May, the city will host a screening of “Freedom Riders,” a documentary about the ride, in conjunction with a re-ception for a busload of college students who will be recreating the Freedom Rides.

Ahmad Ward, of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, said the collaboration between the institute and the Spirit on the Civil Rights Heritage trail was natural. The attack in Anniston was an important turning point in the civil rights movement.

“This event helped to turn some white businessmen in Alabama, who realized this kind of thing couldn’t go on in the state,” Ward said. “It’s a very important part of the fabric of Alabama. You know, we kind of like to look at Ala-bama as the landmark of American history at the institute and all of these pieces fit together.”

In addition, Spirit is partnering with Jacksonville State University to create youth programs to teach students about the brutal events that took place in the city and county.

The former Greyhound Bus Station on Gurnee Avenue will be just one stop on the trail. There will be stops on West 15th Street, two former bus station buildings and the site of the bus burning on Old Birmingham Highway.

Bonnie Seymour, director of the Public Library of Anniston/Calhoun County, said the library is excited to host the exhibition of photographs borrowed from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, many of which were taken in An-niston.

“I think everyone here probably knows that one of the main focuses of the public library is our Alabama Room,” Seymour said. “We aren’t an archive, but we’re as close as Anniston has to an archive.”

JSU is also partnering with Omega Psi Phi fraternity and state Representative Barbara Boyd to develop a “Freedom Rider Park” at the site of the bus burning on Highway 202. There is already a plaque on the site, provided by the Omega Psi Phi.

Spirit sees the project as a positive thing for the community.

“The Spirit of Anniston sees this as an economic development opportunity for a part of our area,” said Ann Welch, chair of the Spirit of Anniston board. “West 15th Street will be a significant place on this Civil Rights Heritage Trail. We’re looking forward to seeing tour buses and people coming from all over the country and not only will that be a big boost to that part of the community, but it will also be to Anniston and Calhoun County.”

Mayor Gene Robinson agreed. The tour will create economic development for the region, even while it commemo-rates a dark day in its history.

“We’re not whitewashing it,” Robinson said. “Today is a very important day in the new history of Anniston.”

Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.

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Anniston to commemorate the Freedom Riders by Laura Camper

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