Pete Conroy, the co-chair of the park's organizing committee, said the wooden sign announcing the park on Alabama 202 was burned by a fire set sometime Saturday night.
“It’s disappointing,” Conroy said. “But I think it emphasizes the need for understanding and education and the need for the kind of positivity that we’re trying to bring with this park.”
A back panel on the wooden sign outlining the history of the event on Mother’s Day 1961 when a mob firebombed a bus carrying Civil Rights activists through the state protesting segregation laws was completely burned away.
The front panel of the sign, facing Alabama 202 and reading “Future home of Freedom Riders Park” was partially burned.
Calls to investigators at the Anniston Police Department and Anniston Fire Department were not immediately returned Sunday afternoon.
Conroy said police told him there were no suspects yet, but there might have been a witness in the area sometime around 2 a.m.
The sign for the park was unveiled last month at a groundbreaking ceremony. Conroy said he hopes to kick off a national campaign to raise money to complete the park in the near future.
Conroy said he received several calls Sunday morning about the sign, including from state Rep. Barbara Boyd and Anniston Mayor-elect Vaughn Stewart.
“This act of intimidation would not have deterred the Freedom Riders 50 years ago, and it will not deter this community today,” Stewart said in a prepared statement. “Anniston will redouble its efforts to build the Freedom Riders Park and pay tribute to those American heroes.”
Conroy said the group was placing a new front panel, facing the highway, on the sign today. He hoped to replace the back panel sometime in the next few days.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.