Powerful. Anniston Star’s letter to President Obama supporting Freedom Riders National Monument

Anniston Alabama Freedom Riders
Anniston Alabama Freedom Riders
Freedom riders, supporters, Secretary Sally Jewell (center with red jacket) and National Parks Service Director (far right in uniform) Jon Jarvis

With little more than a month left in President Obama’s presidency, the Anniston Star, yesterday wrote a powerful editorial supporting the designation of a Freedom Riders National Monument.

Last October’s visit by Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to the Freedom Riders sites was an important moment in Alabama history. The Star’s conclusion in the December 13th editorial, best describes why designating Freedom Riders National Monument is important to Anniston, Alabama and the entire nation.

“Five years ago, on the bus burning’s 50th anniversary, Anniston’s recovery from that terrible 1961 day began in earnest. We welcomed surviving Freedom Riders, embraced their return and extended a humble hand of apology and love. It is an American story of reconciliation and rebirth, and it is ours.

Your signature calling for national monuments here would allow this generational saga to become an instrument of peace and instruction, which is what it deserves.”

Here is the Bham Now story and pictures from that historic day in October – Support for Freedom Riders National Park growing (slideshow) .


Below is the Anniston Star editorial in its entirety. A must read. 

Now it is in President Obama’s hands.

Freedom Riders Greyhound Bus Depot Site

A letter to President Obama about Anniston’s Freedom Riders’ sites


By the editorial board of The Anniston Star – Dec 13, 2016

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Mr. President,

Fifty-five years ago, something awful happened here in Anniston, Ala., acts of race-fueled hate and intimidation. But that’s not why we’re writing you today. Instead, it’s to tell you how this small city has started to reconcile its past mistakes and is again committed to becoming a beacon within today’s New South.

Mother’s Day 1961 is one of our city’s darkest moments, perhaps even its worse. A white mob attacked two Freedom Riders’ buses that came our way. The mob firebombed one of the buses. Thank the Lord no one died. But fiery images from that Sunday morning were seen by people all across the globe. Anniston became the city of the burning bus.

That isn’t who we are now. Time, maturity and soul-searching have saved us. In October, when one of your Cabinet members, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, visited our city, she saw first-hand the transformation. She learned what we are and what we have to offer our nation.

“This is a very, very important part of our nation’s painful journey,” Jewell said during her Anniston visit, “so I think it’s important that it be told.”

We wholeheartedly agree with Secretary Jewell’s statement. It is important that this story be told. Two vital Freedom Riders sites remain in the Anniston area. With funding and proper oversight, their potential to inform, teach and promote diversity would be reached. That’s why we’re asking you in these final days of your administration to designate Anniston’s former Greyhound bus station and the bus burning site outside the city limits as official national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Please understand, this request isn’t from a handful of Southern activists. It’s from a community that has emphatically displayed its belief in these sites and their message. The highlight of Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis’ recent visit was a public meeting where your representatives saw who we are today. That afternoon will be remembered as one of this city’s most hopeful moments.

One by one, residents told Jewell and Jarvis why they supported this cause. White people and black people, teenagers and the elderly, even small children barely tall enough to reach the microphone. Your representatives heard of this community’s difficult past, its struggle with race and division and segregation, and how it’s overcome much, though not all, of it.

Five years ago, on the bus burning’s 50th anniversary, Anniston’s recovery from that terrible 1961 day began in earnest. We welcomed surviving Freedom Riders, embraced their return and extended a humble hand of apology and love. It is an American story of reconciliation and rebirth, and it is ours.

Your signature calling for national monuments here would allow this generational saga to become an instrument of peace and instruction, which is what it deserves.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.