For the past 47 months I have driven past a point on the side of the road, oftentimes twice a day. It is a spot with a historic marker on it, and even though before yesterday I never stopped, I knew what had happened there.
When I was in school (late 80’s) the 60s were the last bit of history the teacher could squeeze in, albeit ineffectively. Kind of like my children barely get in the end of the Cold War. One thing they did get in, much more than I got was the civil rights movement, especially the Freedom Riders.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the bus burning incident just outside Anniston. There were multiple events staged in Anniston and Birmingham to commemorate this chapter of the movement. Whether it was truly a pivotal chapter or just another chapter is arguable, and not an argument I want to get into. To the best of my knowledge, and those around me I asked, none of the commemorative events took place at the point I pass twice a day. There were some of the remaining Freedom Riders in attendance at these events. For one or more it may have been their first return to Anniston or Birmingham, but other than a personal visit to the site I know of no events that took place here.
Did those who put on the commemorative events slight the sight by not returning to it? The 14th of May was the last “cool snap” we’ve had in Alabama, our next cold front isn’t scheduled until October, it was only 74, so it should not have been the weather. Can anyone imagine a September 11, 2001 commemorative event in 2051 being done at 42nd and Broadway instead of just off of West St? What message does this send out? We want to remember the events, but don’t want to be inconvenienced by actually going to the remote spots where nothing is?
When I was in high school my teachers rushed the Civil Rights Movement. It was the end of the year, they were out of time with too much curriculum to teach, and most of them (from the South) had grown up and learned in segregated environments, not like the integrated schools I did. Not that it wasn’t an important subject, just that perhaps it was still too sensitive and too fresh on their minds. On the other hand, my children discussed this a great deal in their school, and I could not be happier.
For my part, I got all the lesson I needed as I drove off from the marker. Four kids, teenaged by the looks, had come out to the field adjacent to the marker, in the area between the old AL 202 and the new AL 202. They were riding four-wheelers, laughing and having a good time. None of them seemed to care that the group had a mix of race. All I saw was four Alabama teenagers, enjoying a hot afternoon in early June. Perhaps I saw someone’s dream.
- Freedom Rides: 50 years later (sfgate.com)
- Museum opens in Alabama to honor Freedom Riders (seattletimes.nwsource.com)