Posts Tagged ‘ Day 6 ’
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.
By Rachael DeMarce
Standing next to Bob Singleton at the site where a Freedom Rider bus was firebombed in 1961, I listened to a photographer from Anniston explaining the struggle that “we went through” to an original Freedom Rider. I found it difficult to interpret exactly what he intended by the word “we.” With one word he was able to easily insert himself into a monumental event in Anniston’s history. Not far from our conversation, the press asked questions regarding the economic development of the location where the Freedom Riders bus was fire bombed.
Leaning on a distressed white wooden fence a white woman observed our conversation. She appeared out of place in an area that was her home. I wondered if we had unexpectedly interrupted her day. I walked over to stand in the grass with her. Reaching out my hand she hesitantly accepted my greeting. She began to explain that her parents were the only remaining family in one of three homes directly across from where the bus burned fifty years ago. It was in this moment, I realized this was part of her history, and that I couldn’t label who the “we” was in this painful attack. Our brief discussion symbolized dialogue that may not have happened without the creation of the Freedom Riders book and eventual documentary. Certain members in the town seemed to care about this anniversary in a way that they had never done before, and encourage us as students to continue the work of original Freedom Riders saying “it’s now up to you”.
I welcome this responsibility but believe that it is not only up to us as students. The older generation still has an important role to play. During our breakfast in Anniston we listened attentively to the mayor who spoke only of economic development and did not acknowledge the actual attack. Later on, I was disappointed to hear him talking in the back of the crowd with three other white men as an original Freedom Rider spoke. The visible divide was made more apparent when the mayor said “this is not fake.” There were genuine and honest moments of reconciliation in Anniston. I have hope that current leadership in the town of Anniston will take responsibility and not wait to pass current injustices on to students.