By JoyEllen Freeman
There’s no place like home. And I believe that. From the very beginning of the trip, I looked forward to traveling to Atlanta with my fellow Freedom Riders because this is the city that I call home. As a part of our visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site, we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King used to preach. We sat in the pew and listened to a recording of one of Dr. King’s original sermons. Listening to his congregation respond back to him, staring at the wooden communion table with the quote “This do in remembrance of me,” and watching light stream through the stained-glass windows felt all too close to home because it reminded me of my own Baptist church in Roswell, Georgia. Hearing the trembling in Dr. King’s voice as he confessed that he too “gets discouraged” was difficult for me to hear because discouragement, dejection, and fear are not concepts that I want to associate with Dr. King, the civil rights movement, or with my hometown. It’s such a strange feeling when home transforms from a place of comfort to one of solemnity and pain, and I found that it also takes a lot of emotional effort to accept this new reality. I guess this is a part of “stepping out of my comfort zone” that I promised myself I would do.
Likewise, Anniston, Alabama conjures these same sentiments on an even deeper level. The epitome of a small, southern hometown, Anniston is the infamous location where a mob of angry whites firebombed the Freedom Riders’ bus in 1961. During my visit to Anniston and the firebombing site, I felt a constant clash between the eeriness of the events that occurred 50 years ago and the desperation of the city’s residents to reconcile with this history. Despite the delicious grits, warm Southern hospitality, and newly designed tribute to the 1961 Freedom Rides, Anniston still has many opened wounds relating to segregation and injustice. No matter how I or anyone else may feel about the painful events in Anniston’s past, I try to remember that about 25,000 people call this place “home,” and I need to respect that.