One of Barack Obama’s last acts as president was to establish the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama. You can read his full proclamation of January 13, 2017. In May 1961 groups of Freedom Riders boarded a Trailways and a Greyhound bus from D.C. to New Orleans to test whether bus station facilities in the South were complying with Supreme Court cases that struck down state laws compelling segregation in interstate travel, building on Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, . The Greyhound bus stopped in the station in Anniston, Alabama, where a mob broke windows and slashed tires before a police escort was able to clear a path for the bus.
Six miles out of town, the tires gave out and the driver pulled over. The mob threw a firebomb into the bus, and tried to keep the Freedom Riders from escaping. A freelance photographer, Joe Postiglione, captured images that were published across the country forcing the issue before the public.
The Trailways bus was attacked in Birmingham. By the end of the month, Attorney General Robert Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue regulations banning segregation on bus carrier and terminals, and the regulations were issued later that year. Along with the Freedom Riders, other campaigns by the Southern Christina Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee focused attention on voting rights, and my friend and St. Louis labor attorney, Chris Hexter participated in the Freedom Summer in Mississippi to expand education opportunities and mentoring to African-American students.
The National Park Services Civil Rights Trail recognizes and honors many of these efforts. The Anniston bus terminal is not yet open to the public, but I asked to be let in to see how the development was coming. The S&H sign in the photo above and other relics of the events are stored and awaiting display. Below is the old kitchen facilities in the station. Hopefully, in a few years, the facility will be ready to better tell the story. The location where the bus was firebombed will also be developed, though I suspect the current administration is in no hurry to fund these efforts.