Anniston made me edgy. Don’t get me wrong, the spirit of the day was pleasant, upbeat, ambitious, something just felt funny.
And when all of the town folks showed up to greet the bus, I have to say I was a little nervous. Out of all of the places on the Freedom Riders 1961 trip, I think the Anniston story scares me the most. Looking at them from the bus window, all I could think about was the passage in Freedom Riders that described how, when they pulled into town on May 14, 1961, Mother’s Day, that ‘Anniston’s sidewalks were lined with people, an unusual sight on a Sunday afternoon in a Deep South town. Rider Genevieve Hughes said “It seemed that everyone in the town was out to greet us.” Ironic, the same thing happened to us, the street was lined with the local whos-who, but thankfully they weren’t waiting to beat the crap out of us. No one said ‘Well boys, here they are.” They wanted to have us over for lunch.
Dr. Arsenault said that when he first brought students to Anniston in 2005, the police met them and wanted to know what they were up to. I laugh when I think about that, but I also recognize the amount of bravado that took. These folks just hope that the whole thing will just go away, and here’s a bus load of grad students and lawyers from out of town, looking for a place that the local folks would rather forget about. He told us that the police had to call someone to help them remember where the bus burned in Bynam, and they were escorted to what may have been the site. I’ll bet that was an uneasy moment for the local law dogs, to say the least. Soon I will write more about that whole day.
There was a reference at lunch to “burning questions,” which was unintentional and ironic.
I collapsed in the alley where the same woman pointed to what was likely the “colored entrance” to the old bus station, which is now ironically a sign shop – I thought back to the sign shop that Doug Jones talked about that fronted the Alabama Klan that bombed the 16th Street church.
My knee gave out right at the exact moment in the alley at the bus station where the Freedom Riders first got their beating when Dr. A mentioned the arrival of the Klan. I was ok, but I think I need to be holding a railing or something when people talk about the KKK, as it was the same thing I felt shooting photos in the Southern Poverty Law Center, only there I didn’t go down, I held the back of a chair, and shot pictures with both hands.
Later, a preacher blessed my knee, which was interesting. That’s never happened before.
And when we got to the Freedom Riders Monument, at the same place in Bynam that the local cops weren’t sure about five years ago, Rip Patton’s action confirmed my intuition about Anniston.
The first thing he did was check the marker for bullet holes.
That’s what you see in the picture.