Freedom Riders monument visit

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell greets Freedom Rider Charles Person during her visit to Anniston. 

Kirsten Fiscus/ The Anniston Star

Sally Jewell, secretary of the Interior Department, brushed away tears Thursday as Hank Thomas described how he and other civil rights activists were nearly burned to death by a mob beside Alabama 202 west of Anniston in 1961, steps from where Jewell sat.

Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis visited Anniston on Thursday to tour two sites tied to the Freedom Riders, who in 1961 risked their lives challenging segregation on interstate buses and in bus stations. In addition to the Greyhound bus that was burned, Freedom Riders on a Trailways bus were attacked in Anniston later that day, and that bus was met with further violence in Birmingham.

Jewell and Jarvis will soon decide whether to ask President Barack Obama to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the Anniston sites a national monument. There are already two bills introduced in Congress to do so, but Jarvis said Thursday that the likeliest path to get that designation will be through a presidential order.

“I think that there’s an incredible opportunity here to tell a very important story about our journey,” Jewell said, standing near that spot along 202.

Prior to the visit to the site where the Freedom Riders’ bus was firebombed, Jewell and Jarvis toured the former Greyhound station on Gurnee Avenue, where the bus and the activists aboard were attacked before leaving town on 202.