Bus station to reopen as Freedom Riders national monument

A former Greyhound bus station will reopen in April as a Welcome Center to the Anniston Civil Rights Trail in Alabama. The opening comes ahead of the 60th anniversary in May of an attack on Freedom Riders that drew national attention to racial injustices.

These civil rights activists rode interstate buses during the early 1960s into the segregated South to challenge the non-enforcement of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled segregated public buses were unconstitutional.

The former bus station is being restored to illustrate its 1961 condition, including “colored” and “white” entrances so visitors can see how racial segregation was enforced at the time.

Interpretive site

The whole streetscape is evolving into an interpretive site, according to W. Peter Conroy, who is the co-chair of Freedom Riders Park Inc. and the director of Jacksonville State University’s Strategic Partnerships and Projects, Field Schools, Mountain Center & Canyon Center. 

bus station
A mural of the Greyhound bus tells the events of May 14, 1961. (NPS)

“People can come by and listen to Freedom Riders Hank Thomas and Charles Person‘s voices. They can read a lot of panels and stand in the very place where the civil rights movement began right there in that alleyway behind the station,” Conroy told Bus & Motorcoach News.

The side of the adjacent building that borders the bus station’s driveway features a mural and educational panels about the events of May 14, 1961.

Compelling history

The project is being funded through the African American Civil Rights Grant Program, which works to document, interpret and preserve the sites and stories related to the African American struggle to gain equal rights. 

The funds were used to rehabilitate the exterior and interior of the building by removing non-historic components of the building and adding interpretive materials.

Conroy encourages tour operators to put the new National Park on their itineraries. It’s one of many compelling historic markers along the Civil Rights Trail. Alabama Public Television will release a documentary about the Freedom Riders in April before the 60th anniversary of the historic event in May. 

May 14, 1961

The former Greyhound Bus Station, at 1031 Gurnee Ave. in downtown Anniston, is where segregationists attacked a bus carrying Freedom Riders in May 1961. 

The attack took place on May 14, 1961 — Mother’s Day. The attackers were a group of segregationists — including members of the Ku Klux Klan. The mob threw rocks, broke windows and slashed the tires of the bus. 

Police eventually intervened and the bus was able to depart for Birmingham, with the mob in pursuit. Six miles away on the side of the highway, they firebombed the hobbled bus and attempted to trap the Black and white Freedom Riders inside.

Someone in the group threw a bundle of flaming rags into the bus that exploded seconds later. Photographs of the burning bus — which appeared in hundreds of newspapers — became iconic images of the civil rights movement. 

An Alabama Historical Marker now identifies the site of the bus burning. 

Related: 5 group destinations to learn about African American history

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