Traveling the Freedom Riders' Route
Stops for history buffs include Montgomery's Greyhound Bus Station and other time-honored markers.
50th anniversary of the 1961 freedom rides. (The Washington Post)
Every stop along the road did not bring violence for the riders.
In Villa Rica, Ga., a town just off Interstate 20 in West Georgia, the Villa Rica Historic Preservation Commission erected a marker in 2011, designating the peaceful passage through the station near the intersection of South Carroll Road and Montgomery Street. Freedom riders passed through that city's bus terminal in 1961 in the initial trip that started in Washington, D.C.
About 60 miles from Villa Rica, in Anniston, Ala., the freedom riders faced a brutal attack. Tires on the bus were slashed and windows were broken. When the bus driver got off to change a flat, the mob attacked the bus and set it on fire. The riders were beaten.
In 2007, the Alabama Historical Association erected a marker, sponsored by the Theta Tau chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, honoring the freedom riders at the site of the violence, which is now Albert P. Brewer Highway.
Freedom riders were also beaten in Birmingham at the Trailways Bus Station. Police were nearby, but they didn't stop the violence.
In 1995, the Alabama Historical Commission erected a marker sponsored by Kenneth Mullinax Jr. at 19th Street and Fourth Avenue North to honor the freedom riders. Mullinax, a native of Anniston who currently serves as director of media relations and public information at Alabama State University, is white. As a child, he witnessed the burning of the freedom riders' bus in Anniston.
"We were leaving Forsythe's grocery -- me, my mom and dad," Mullinax told The Root. "Dad told me and Mom to lie on the floor of the car when he saw what was happening. I raised my head up anyway."
Years later, Mullinax started a personal mission to fund some of Alabama's historic markers, including several commemorating key moments in civil rights history.
"We must never forget the struggle, the toil and the turmoil ordinary citizens had to do to turn around the hearts of hard-hearted segregationists as well as the government which supported their actions, which was nothing less than state-sponsored terrorism," Mullinax said. "Thank goodness they wouldn't let anybody turn them around."
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer in Alabama.