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JSU Helps Lead Effort to Create Freedom Riders Park

09/16/2015


Efforts to recognize an historic Civil Rights site in Calhoun County have grown into a nationwide campaign led, in part, by JSU’s Environmental Policy and Information Center (EPIC).

EPIC Director Pete Conroy is co-chairing the committee working to develop a 4.5-acre memorial to be known as Freedom Riders Park at the site where a Civil Rights bus was attacked and burned near Anniston in 1961.

The project, which has been in the works for nearly 15 years, has recently gained widespread support from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama Sen. Del Marsh, Alabama Rep. Barbara Boyd, the Calhoun County Commission, Anniston City Council, Calhoun Chamber of Commerce, Westinghouse Corporation, Alabama Power Company, NAACP and the National Park Service.

"JSU has been a hard driving force behind this effort and I’m optimistic that this chapter of the Freedom Rides will now go down in history as a positive turning point for progress and the good of all people,” said Dr. Bill Harbour, a 1961 Freedom Rider from Piedmont, co-chair of the committee, and JSU’s 2013 summer commencement speaker.

On May 14th, 1961, a Greyhound Bus left Atlanta carrying among its passengers seven members of the Congress of Racial Equality, known as the "Freedom Riders," on a journey to test interstate bus segregation. The bus was met by an angry mob at the bus station in Anniston, where tires were slashed and windows broken. Upon leaving Anniston, the bus was followed by the mob to a site on Highway 202 where the driver stopped to change the tire. The crowd set the bus on fire and attacked the passengers as they departed. The incident served to strengthen the resolve for the Civil Rights movement.

The actual site of the famous burning bus incident of 1961 is now a grassy, four-acre highway easement in Anniston recently acquired by a group of proactive citizens intending to build the nation’s first Freedom Riders Park. The purpose of the park is to provide an internationally significant place for reflection, appreciation and public education all focused on the Freedom Riders, Civil Rights and the bus burning. The park will perpetuate the notion that "crisis is opportunity" by telling the story of how an act of violence fueled the nation’s Civil Rights movement.

“Through the decision by the National Park Service to conduct a reconnaissance survey, the possibility now exists that the Greyhound Station in Anniston – where bus tires were slashed – and also the place, seven miles away, where the bus was famously burned, could both be designated as a unit of our National Park system,” Conroy said. “It’s all very exciting.”

JSU’s American Democracy Project Team is hosting a Freedom Riders Panel on Sept. 17 as part of its Constitution and Citizenship Day celebration. The panel will begin at 11 a.m. on the 11th floor of Houston Cole Library. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information regarding Freedom Riders Park, contact Pete Conroy at pconroy@jsu.edu or  256-782-8010. For more information on the Constitution and Citizenship Day Celebration, contact Dr. Lori Owens at ljowens@jsu.edu or 256-782-5106. 

Design Concept for Freedom Riders Park.

A design concept for Freedom Riders Park. 

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