President Obama designates Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston

The former bus depot as it stands today. (Source: WBRC video)
The former bus depot as it stands today. (Source: WBRC video)
Published: Jan. 12, 2017 at 10:43 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2017 at 8:10 PM CST
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ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - President Barack Obama has designated three new national monuments, including the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston.

"The Freedom Riders and their families, I'm happy for them. I mean, this is a day, that they deserve, and they deserve our honor, our recognition and our
gratitude. This is about those men and women," Anniston Mayor Jack Draper said.

The city of Anniston has received nearly $500,000 to establish the monument.

The national monument in Anniston will include the former Greyhound bus station, which until recently was home to a local sign business, and the bus burning site outside of town along Highway 202, where a non-profit hopes to build a Freedom Riders Park.

Draper says the first order of business will be to work with the National Park Service to renovate the former Greyhound bus station.

The Freedom Riders tested integration laws on the interstate bus system. The former bus station is the site where a Freedom Rider bus attacked in 1961. When the bus broke down outside of Anniston, a mob firebombed it and tried holding the doors of the bus shut to trap the Freedom Riders.

Freedom Rider Hank Thomas was beaten when he fled the burning bus.

"The good people of Alabama who stood with us, acquitted themselves well in the name of social justice...I am proud to have played a part however small...I'm proud of President Obama for remembering the work not just of the Freedom Riders, but going back to the Tuskegee Airmen," Thomas said.

We asked Thomas how he will feel when he comes back to Anniston to see all the work done.

"I will bring my daughter, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. I have a 7-year-old great-granddaughter that when I tell her why I was famous, her face just glazes over," Thomas said.

Charles Person was on a Trailways bus that was attacked in Anniston on the same day but made it to Birmingham.

"I'm excited, it gives us an opportunity to tell our story while we're still alive to tell it...The first time I returned to Anniston I didn't want to get off the bus. I didn't want to have anything to do with that town. But when I returned for the 50th reunion (in 2011), I saw a city that changed, a city full of friendly people that worked together and became a model city for change," Person said.

Other proclamations designate the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

Click here to read the full Freedom Riders National Monument proclamation from President Obama.

Governor Robert Bentley released this statement about the designation:

In Alabama, we don't hide from our history or the events of the past; we reflect on those events and use them as guidance for a successful future. These new national monuments in Birmingham and Anniston, designated by President Obama, will help teach Alabamians, future generations and the rest of the world the important lessons learned during the Civil Rights Movement," Governor Bentley said. "The new monuments will tell important stories of the Freedom Riders, the fatal bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963 and so many more untold accounts of the brave men and women who fought inequality to bring about needed change. I want to thank all the dedicated men and women and local elected officials involved in making the national monuments possible and ensuring the legacy of all those involved in the Civil Rights movement is not forgotten.

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