Posts Tagged ‘alabama’

Freedom Rider Rip Patton at the Freedom Riders Marker in Bynam

Freedom Rider Rip Patton checks the monument at the site where the bus burned in Bynam, Alabama for bullet holes

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.

Marching Selma Edmund Pettus Bridge

Marching Selma


I chose the photo to represent this day because I wanted to remember how I felt going over that bridge.
 
Selma, Alabama was so quiet on a Thursday afternoon it was unnerving. We spent some time at a voting rights museum at the foot of the Pettus Bridge. It seems like such an unassuming place and I wondered that if I didn’t know the history of what happened there, if I would have been feeling the vibe that I was.
 
During the Civil War, Selma was a foundry town, manufacturing war ships and weapons. And in March of 1865 there was the Battle of Selma. 
 
A hundred years later in March of 1965, in an event that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, 600-ish civil rights marchers left Selma on highway 80, made it about six blocks, and were met on the downside of the Edmund Pettus bridge by Alabama State Troopers and local sheriff’s deputies with tear gas and billy clubs, who beat the marchers up, loaded them into paddy wagons, and drove them back to the other side of the bridge.
 
Arsenault led our class to the starting point of the march, and we followed him over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He also made us be quiet and reverent, which for once no one seemed to mind. I wanted to hustle ahead of the class and get a shot of everyone that honored a shot I had seen of the Bloody Sunday March.
 
But when we got on the bridge, I knew it would be unwise to do so.
 
Some drivers didn’t pull over. But others sped up and swiped close, one carload even said something smart.
 
Here, I vowed, whenever I see something where a group is gathered…
 
Whether or not I am late for work.
 
Or on my way to somewhere important.
 
Or distracted and irritated if they are in my way.
 
I can at the very least.
 
Slow down.
 
And give them a little honor, no matter what they are doing.
 
I tried like I did in Birmingham, another place that provided some of the most haunting imagery in this country’s history, to take some shots that capture both the reverence of the day and the moments of stillness.

Born in Selma, Catherine Burks was a 21 year-old senior at Tennessee State University when she joined the freedom rides, and her refusal to be intimidated by “Bull” Connor’s personal threats as he drove her and six companions to the Tennessee border is captured with unique accuracy in Chapter 5 of Professor Arsenault’s book. She was on the bus with Bill Harbour, John Lewis, Jim Zwerg, Susan Wilber, Susan Herman, Bernard Lafayette, William Barbee, and others in Montgomery, and during the brutal mob attack – perhaps the worst since the Anniston firebombing – she rescued some of the female riders from the mob by driving them to First Baptist Church in a taxicab which she drove herself notwithstanding the protest of the black driver. She continued her commitment to the movement by traveling with Bill Harbour, John Lewis, Jim Zwerg, and others to Chicago to raise funds for CORE, and sees the Movement, and Dr. King’s personal efforts as including empowerment by grass roots organization – directed at social and economic progress, in the footsteps of the organizational techniques of union movements