ANNISTON, Ala. (WBRC) - “I will never, ever forget the feeling we had on that bus or that I had, when we pulled into Anniston,” says Hank Thomas, a Freedom Rider who survived a burning Greyhound Bus, set afire by an angry mob full of Klan members on May 14, 1961.
A solar audio panel was unveiled at the former Anniston Greyhound station where the Freedom Riders were faced with anger. The Freedom Riders rode buses throughout the South in 1961 to see if a Supreme Court ruling to desegregate bus and train depots was being followed. When they arrived in Anniston, the tires on the bus were flattened and then, on a stretch of what’s now Alabama Highway 202, the crowd set fire to the bus and Thomas was beaten.
The station is being restored to the way it looked in May 1961. It and a field near the burning site, which will eventually become a park, were declared a National Memorial by President Barack Obama just before he left office.
Now, with the newly installed audio panels, at the push of a button, visitors can hear Thomas tell his story.
Co-chairman of the Memorial board, Pete Conroy, says Thomas didn’t use a script when he recorded that message.
“Spontaneously, with his granddaughter on his lap, (he) did a really eloquent presentation. It sounds scripted, but I promise you, it was off the top of his head,” Conroy said.
Two more audio boxes will be installed at two other locations that are part of the memorial, including the site where the bus was burned. The voice of Janie Forsythe, the now-grown littlle girl who lived across the street and brought ice water to the Freedom Riders as their bus burned, will be heard at the park, and another Freedom Rider, Charles Person, will be heard in a spot near the former Continental Trailways station where another busload of Freedom Riders was also attacked.