By Michael Tubbs
Anniston, Alabama is an iconic site in the psyche of all those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years ago, home grown terrorists slashed the tires and attempted to burn the bus holding the Freedom Riders. Today, we revisited the site of the horrific incident to participate in the grand openings of the photo exhibit and two murals.
In a sense, the movement was defined by that fire. Through those flames, the nation was able to bear witness to the blind bigotry and hatred that consumed far too many. Through those flames, the brave men and women emerged as heroes dedicated to the cause of non-violent direct action and the power of love. Through those flames, my vision of Anniston and civil rights today has been sharpened and borders on being critical.
My experience thus far on the bus has convinced me that reconciliation is a process not a moment. At the dedication of the photo exhibit for the burning bus, the son of one of the mob members hugged a Freedom Rider who was on the bus, welcoming him to the town. Although the moment was special, it was not, as many were calling it, reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen, the present should not bear much resemblance to the social realities of the past. A local woman eloquently echoed these sentiments saying, ” we got this mural after fifty years but we have a long way to go.” In towns nationwide, blacks still face police brutality, inferior education, employment difficulties and a host of other ills.
In many respects the election of the first black president and commerating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides is the beginnining of the long process towards racial reconciliation. Sure moments and memories are nice, but unless we seriously address the racial inequities that plague us in every sphere, fifty years from now our children won’t be able to hold any dedications commemorating the work we did. It’s definitely important to look back and reflect on the past, but it’s more important to collectively turn our gaze to now and the future and frankly engage with the work that still needs to be done.