Event captures memories of Freedom Riders’ heroic journey between Anniston and Birmingham

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Freedom Riders Historical marker on 4th Ave & 19th North site of the Trailways Bus Station in 1961. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

It was one of the darkest moments in Alabama history.  

On Mother’s Day, May 14, 1961, Freedom Riders, peacefully demonstrating against segregation on buses and in facilities used by interstate passengers of public transportation, entered the state of Alabama. When they arrived in both Anniston and Birmingham they were met by mobs, beaten, and outside of Anniston, the Greyhound bus was firebombed.

Freedom Riders Greyhound Bus Station Site in Downtown Anniston. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Last week, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, local organizers replaced the 59th Anniversary celebration honoring the Freedom Riders with an online event that included interviews with surviving Freedom Riders and updates from the National Park Service. 

Here is the entire hour long event:

“This is a safe way to honor the memory of the Freedom Riders and kick off a full year in preparation for the big 60th anniversary,” said Kristofer Butcher, National Park Service Superintendent of Freedom Riders National Monument and Birmingham Civil Rights Monument. “We hope this online program will be shared throughout the nation.”

Site of the Trailways Bus Depot in 1961 in downtown Birmingham. Today the space is a Wells Fargo branch. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Encouraged by Freedom Rider advocate Phillip Howard and supported by Jacksonville State University, as well as the Freedom Riders Park Committee, new interviews and National Park Service updates premiered on May 14th.

The program, which was co-hosted by Howard and JSU’s Pete Conroy, has new, candid interviews with Freedom Riders Charles Person and Hank Thomas along with conversations from Superintendent Butcher, Montgomery Freedom Rider Museum Site Director Dorothy Walker and 98-year-old author of Beyond the Burning Bus, Rev. Phillip Noble.

“I had planned to be on Gurnee Avenue (in Anniston), outside the Greyhound Bus Depot, but this online event will be a good replacement,” said Freedom Rider Charles Person. “We appreciate this community effort and hope people will watch, learn and model the Freedom Riders,” he said.

Information board at site of the attack on the Freedom Riders. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Also featured will be filmmakers Chris O’Connor and JSU’s Seth Johnson revealing details of the Alabama Public Television special 60th Anniversary Freedom Rider documentary to be released in 2021.

The 60-minute, 59th Anniversary program was produced by Gilbert Creative using recording technologies from both the studio and home.

Firsthand History

Reserve an hour this week to watch Persons and Hank Thomas provide their firsthand account on what happened that day 59 years ago. Also, listen to the latest progress report on the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument.

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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.
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