Freedom Riders

The flame of the gas light burns bright as the sun sets on the Freedom Riders Monument on Gurnee Ave. in downtown AnnistonPhoto by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

More than a dozen local and federal officials met at McClellan on Wednesday to start the process of writing down what makes Anniston’s Freedom Riders National Monument special to the country and how leaders will bestcare for it.

“This document and the information we're working on becomes the foundation for how the park will be managed in the future,” said Ben West, chief planning officer for the southeast region of the National Park Service.

Park Service staff and local leaders on Wednesday were on the second of a three-day workshop to create the first draft of what the agency calls a foundational document.

The document will state the park’s purpose, its significance, its fundamental resources, its interpretive themes and any special mandates or commitments associated with the monument.

Reginald Tiller, acting superintendent for the Freedom Riders park, said he has been to five such workshops, and Anniston’s seemed to be running smoothly Wednesday.

The officials included state Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston; Toby Bennington, Anniston’s director of planning and economic development; and Emily Duncan, tourism and marketing director for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.  

West said he was reluctant to name some of the specifics drafted this week, because they are likely to change over a long revision period. Tiller said Park Service staff will take the notes from this week’s workshop, write a draft, send the draft to the workshop members for edits, then submit it to the Park Service regional office for further review before it’s approved by a director there.

West said the foundational document “only serves to bolster the Park Service's commitment to work with the community and allow them to participate in the development of this park.”

Then-President Barack Obama in January proclaimed the former bus station on Gurnee Avenue and a site on Alabama 202 as a national monument.

On Mother’s Day 1961 a bus carrying carrying black and white activists rolled into the that station, where a mob awaited them. The Freedom Riders were testing a U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding racial segregation in interstate travel facilities.

The mob of locals slashed the bus’ tires and followed to where it broke down on Alabama 202, 6 miles west of the city. A firebomb was tossed into a window, but the riders managed to escape before flames destroyed the bus.

An Anniston Star photo of the burning bus that circulated worldwide galvanized public sentiment about the Freedom Rides and became one of the iconic images of the movement for civil rights for African Americans.

Pete Conroy, co-chair of a nonprofit that for years had worked to make the site a park, said it was exciting to be in this stage of the monument’s development.

“It’s particularly significant that so many local and federal partners are apparently deeply engaged in this workshop,” he said. “Details matter.”


Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @DGaddy_Star.

I'm the assistant metro editor for The Anniston Star. I edit, post online stories and write the occasional story.