We know the 1961 bus burning was an awful and disturbing event that created painful memories and an image that has haunted the city for 50 years. In African American studies classes, books, websites, documentaries and museums across the country, that famous photograph has been emblazoned and used to symbolize everything about the South’s violent history.
In using the Freedom Rides’ 50th anniversary to focus on the positive changes in Anniston since those terrible times, the Spirit organization hoped the creation of The Anniston Civil Rights and Heritage Trail and the hosting of the Student Freedom Ride in May would help educate local residents and visitors alike, be a springboard for economic development, and ultimately become a model for racial reconciliation.
In time, we hope our efforts will help transform Anniston in the eyes of the nation and the world when the trail is completed and marketed nationally and internationally. With the launching of just the first two trail sites, Anniston has received positive coverage in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, AAA magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today and the CBS Evening News. The PBS website also features blogs by the student Freedom Riders.
We hope the trail will inspire the community to help us create other trails related to our industrial, religious, military and commercial history. Combined with the Chief Ladiga and Coldwater Mountain trails, perhaps we will become known as the “Trail City.”
We wouldn’t be this far along without the support of our partners and key individuals, such as the Jacksonville State University art department headed by Jauneth Skinner, who worked with JSU graduate student Jason Wright to develop the trail logo; the JSU history department and professors Jennifer Gross and Gordon Harvey; the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County, under the leadership of Teresa Kiser, who coordinated and staged the “Courage Under Fire” photographic exhibit with photos provided by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Greg Morrow at Southern Custom Exhibits, who is helping design the trail and creating a strategic plan; Theresa Shadrix with Consolidated Publishing Co. for her wonderful research abilities; Joseph Giri, for working within our modest budget to provide such compelling murals; state Rep. Barbara Boyd, for seed money in the early days; the Anniston City Council for hosting dinner for the student Freedom Riders; and David Mashburn at Classic on Noble, for his always generous hospitality.
However, donated time and discounted pricing go only so far in a project this ambitious. We couldn’t have completed the first two sites before the national spotlight shone on us in May without the generous financial support of Alabama Power Co. and Solutia.
The trail’s next phase has already begun. We have commissioned local artist John Davis to work with Giri in developing a design for a mural on West 15th Street. Our goal is to use murals and the development of a small commemorative park in the former African American commercial district as an economic catalyst. Subcommittees are forming around each of the other trail sites such as several significant churches, the library, the courthouse and others. If you would like to work with us on this project, we encourage you to call the Spirit office at 256-236-0996 and leave your contact information. There is much to be done, but we’re off to a great start.
Betsy Bean is executive director of Spirit of Anniston, whose board of directors include Peggy Grubbs, president; Julie Tyson, vice president; Tom McNaron, secretary; Ray Bryan, treasurer and trail committee co-chair; Georgia Calhoun, trail committee co-chair; Betty Carr, Willie Duncan, Jim Friend, David George; Julie Hansek, Maudine Holloway, Beverly Parsons, Sam Phillips, John Rogers, Ann Welch (chairman 2008-2010); and Terry Womack.