Freedom Riders National Monument
Visiting friends during the July 4th weekend, 2020 we toured the newly opened Freedom Riders National Monument. The site is a work in progress. However there were information boards inside the previous Greyhound Bus Station where a mob of white segregationists attacked the riders and the bus.
The Freedom Riders National Monument, as part of the National Park System, was establish on January 12, 2017. There are nine sites included in the Anniston Civil Rights and Heritage Trail. The following text is from the National Park Service brochure titled “Freedom Riders.”
“In 1961, a small interracial band of ‘Freedom Riders’ challenged discriminatory laws requiring separation of races in interstate travel. The Freedom Riders were attacked by white segretionist in Anniston, Alabama, who firebombed the bus. Images of the attack appeared in hundreds of newspapers, shocking the American Public and spurring the federal government to issue regulations banning segregation in interstate travel.”
“On May 4, 1961, eleven Freedom Riders split into two groups and boarded a Greyhound bus and a Tailways bus in Washington D.C. bound for New Orleans, Louisiana.”
“On Sunday, May 14, 1961, the Greyhound bus carrying the first group of Freedom and was met by an angry mob of more than 100 white segregationist, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, at the Greyhound bus station in Anniston, AL. The mob threw rocks at the bus, broke windows and slashed tires.”
“Belatedly, police officers arrived and cleared a path, allowing the bus to depart with a long line of vehicles in pursuit. Two cars pulled ahead of the bus forcing it to slow to a crawl. Six miles outside of town, the bus’s slashed tires gave out and the driver stop the shoulder of Highway 202 near Forsyth and Son Grocery store.”
“There, with the Freedom Riders onboard one member of the mob through a bundle of flaming rags through one of the passenger windows that caused explosion seconds later. The Freedom Riders struggled toescape as members of the mom attempted to trap them inside the burning bus.”
“Twelve-year old Janie Forsyth was standing in front of her father’s grocery store near where the bus had broken down. Upon witnessing people gasping and choking, Janie sprang into action and filled a bucket with water. She began filling glasses for and washing the faces of passengers who had been trapped on that fateful day as the angry mob watched her heroic efforts.”
“The Freedom Riders ultimately receive Little additional aid for their injuries. Later that day, deacons from the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, dispatched by Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth rescued the freedom riders from the angry mob and drove them to shelter at the church.”
“While the greyhound bus was under attack, the second freedom riders bus was also traveling to Anniston. When the Trailways bus –which had departed Atlanta an hour after the Greyhound bus — arrived in Anniston the Trailways station was mostly quiet. A group of Klansmen boarded the bus and forcibly segregated the Freedom Riders. With all aboard, the bus left on its two hour trip to Birmingham during which the Klansmen continued to intimidate and harass the Freedom Riders. When the Trailways bus arrived in Birmingham, a mob of white men and women attacked the Freedom Riders, reporters, and bystanders with fists, Iron pipes, baseball bats, and other weapons. The police department and another in charge of Public Works Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor was nowhere to be seen. After 15 minutes of violence the mob retreated and the police appeared.”
- To view images inside the former Greyhound bus station, Click here. When visited on July 2, 2021, the National Monument had opened that day for the first time to the public – it is a work in progress.
- Click here for images and text associated with the burning of the Greyhound bus.
- Click here for images and text associated with the Trailway bus.
- Click here for images and text associated with the burning Greyhound bus area.
- Audio narration about the attack on the Trailways Bus during the Freedom Riders era. Click here for the audio.