Anniston unveils Civil Rights Trail markers to commemorate era

Published: Jun. 24, 2016 at 9:01 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2016 at 9:34 PM CDT
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Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC
Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC
Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC
Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC

ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - It's more than a collection of markers and even more than history, supporters say.

The new Anniston Civil Rights Trail marks what Mayor Vaughn Stewart called "sacred ground."

A series of 10 markers were dedicated Friday denoting 10 spots in the city, that were important for one reason or another to the civil rights era as it unfolded in Anniston.

The most famous incident, the May 1961 attack and burning of a Greyhound bus full of Freedom Riders, is mentioned in two markers, as well as a 1963 incident in which two pastors were viciously attacked by a large mob, for the simple act of starting the integration process at the local library.

Rev. William McClain, one of those two, was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony, held in the 17th Street Missionary Baptist Church.

That's where the other pastor, the late Rev. Nimrod Reynolds, was a preacher for many years.

Rev. McClain described himself and fellow pastor Reynolds as two "Christian men of God," educated in college-level seminaries, "unable to go to the Anniston public library, unable to own a library card, check out a book, let alone sit down and read and ponder what we read, and carry out our services."

He says when the two men showed up as planned that Sunday afternoon at the Carnegie Library at 10th Street and Wilmer Avenue, a racist mob attacked and beat both of them, even stabbing Reynolds.

Then as the two men made their way back to McClain's car, they found themselves surrounded and unable to move. Then a bullet shattered the windshield and struck McClain in the head, just behind his ear.

Determined, Reynolds actually delivered a sermon at his church that night--"The Gospel had to be administered that night," he later told a white pastor friend--then the two later successfully made their way into the library, alongside the mayor and the chairman of the library board.

The markers include one for the old, now-demolished Carnegie Library, located on the same site, where the current day Anniston-Calhoun County Public Library now sits.

It also includes markers for the Greyhound and Trailways bus stations, both of which were scenes of the 1961 Freedom Riders' bus attacks including the one that played out later on Highway 202 with the world-famous bus-burning incident.

And it includes one for the 17th Street Missionary Baptist Church itself, a meeting place during the civil rights era.

One even denotes the "city within a city" in West Anniston, where black culture and black commerce was still able to flourish for years during that era. Many of these sites also have murals, including one on 15th Street that tells the story of West Anniston.

One marker is located at the site of what was then Anniston Memorial Hospital, where the injured Freedom Riders were treated and where racist mobs beat on the outside doors trying to get to the wounded.

One marker at the old Southern Railway Depot--now the city of Anniston multi-modal center, where city trolleys and AmTrak trains come through--commemorates the Jan. 1961 incident in which Talladega College student Art Bacon, who was a young black man, was brutally attacked for sitting in a "whites only" waiting area, even though the U.S. Surpreme Court had outlawed segregated facilities like that one.

Bacon was waiting for a station wagon from the college to take him back to campus when the incident happened.

"I was attacked for sitting in the 'wrong' waiting room, and that's 'wrong'--quote unquote wrong," Bacon says. "And I was almost killed."

Bacon says he would have been killed, in fact, had a mysterious person in the waiting room, someone unknown to him even now, not intervened.

Bacon went to Anniston Memorial Hospital instead, and several days later, the student body of Talladega College staged a peaceful protest march on the streets of Anniston over the incident.

"Four days later, the whole campus turned out from Talladega College," Bacon said. "Now those people exhibited the true courage. It took a lot of courage to march into what they knew they were going into."

"It's part of history and it should have been told a long time ago," Bacon added.

Bacon later became president of Talladega College.

Maps showing all 10 sites are available at Anniston City Hall.

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