Two busloads of Freedom Riders arrived in Alabama on Sunday, May 14, 1961, bound for New Orleans. It was an organized effort by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to challenge the South's continued defiance of U. S. Supreme Court rulings that outlawed segregation in interstate travel.
These two integrated groups of people, seven on a Greyhound and seven on a Trailways, never made it past Birmingham via bus, and they barely made it out of Anniston. Both buses had left Atlanta about an hour apart the Greyhound arriving at the depot at 1031 Gurnee at 12:54 p m., and ultimately remembered in history as "the burning bus." (See Trail site 1 and la)
However, the Trailways attack in Anniston, which has almost been forgotten because of the dramatic images of the Greyhound in flames, resulted in far more serious and long-term injuries for some of the Riders. Their ordeal began before they left the Atlanta depot when white men, later identified as Alabama Klansmen, boarded the bus after warning other passengers not to buy tickets.
Throughout the two-hour ride across the state line, the Klansmen made threatening remarks about
what might lay ahead in Anniston. When the bus arrived at 901 Noble St., the Riders disembarked
warily and bought a few sandwiches in the station. While
sitting on the bus waiting to leave, they heard a siren but thought nothing of it until the bus driver came on board with a gang of eight "hoodlums," as Rider Jim Peck described them later. He told the Riders a bus had been burned to the ground and the passengers hospitalized, but he refused to start the bus until the black Freedom Riders retreated to "the back of the bus where they belonged." When one of the Riders reminded him they had a right to sit anywhere they wanted, he shook his head in disgust, and left the bus and the Riders to the hoodlums.
Charles Person and Herman Harris, both black college students sitting in the front of the bus were punched in the face. Both refused to fight back but this enraged the Klansmen who dragged them into the aisle, hitting and kicking them. Jim Peck and Walter Bergman rushed from the back where they had been sitting! Both of them were bloodied and beaten unconscious while Frances Bergman begged the men to stop beating her husband. All four Riders were thrown to the back of the bus while the Klansmen sat down in the middle to prevent any further violation of the color line.
The bus driver returned with a policeman who reassured the attackers that he hadn't seen a thing-he left and motioned for the bus to get moving. Aware of the mob violence on the road to Birmingham, the driver took the back roads as the Klansmen
continued to taunt and threaten the Riders with a gun and steel pipe. They informed the Riders they would get what was coming to them in Birmingham.
The violent and frightening attack that ensued at the Birmingham Trailways station was orchestrated by the city's Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor and the Klan. The photos of the Riders, who suffered their second attack of the day, would shock the country and the world, becoming one of the bloodiest afternoons in Birmingham's history.
Still, the Freedom Rides continued. Four hundred and thirty-six Americans, black and white, of all ages and occupations, volunteered for Freedom Rides throughout the summer of 1961. They didn't cease until the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a ruling on Sept. 22 in favor of Attorney General Robert Kennedy's petition to prohibit racial discrimination in interstate bus travel. And while many communities in the South continued to defy the order, Anniston did not. In early November 1961 CORE testers successfully desegregated the lunch counters at both of the city's terminals.
Top right: Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner and Klan conspirator, Eugene "Bull" Connor who helped orchestrate attacks on the Freedom Riders.
Second: Freedom Riders Jim Peck and Jimmy McDonald are interviewed by reporter Bill Cook after
arriving at the New Orleans Airport, Tuesday morning, May 16, 1961.
Third: Attorney General Roberty F. Kennedy speaking outside the Justice Department in late May 1961, he filed a petition asking the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue regulations prohibiting segregation in interstate bus travel.
Oval photo: Michigan ACLU executive director Howard Simon wheels former Freedom Rider Walter Bergman into a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1983.
Bottom right: The Rebel Cafe at the Greyhound bus station and the the lunch counter at the Trailways station were both integrated by the end of 1961.
Background: This photo of the buildings across the street from the Trailways station was taken by Anniston Star photographer Joe Postiglione the morning of the attack. The FBI later determined none of the people or the cars were related to the afternoon attack.
Trailways Freedom Riders
Frances Bergman, 57-year-old white female from Detroit, Mich.
(retired elementary school teacher and administrator)
Walter Bergman, 61-year-old white male from Detroit, Mich.
(retired professor, Wayne State University and University of
Herman Harris, 21-year-old black male from Englewood, N.J.
(student at Morris College in Sumter, S.C.)
Ivor "Jerry" Moore,
19-year-old black male from Bronx, N.Y.
student, Morris College)
James Peck, 46-year-old white male, from New York, N.Y. (Editor
and activist with CORE; he was also on the "Journey of
Reconciliation" in April 1947.)
Charles Person, 18-year-old black male from Atlanta, Ga.
(student, Morehouse College, Atlanta)
Isaac Reynolds, 27-year-old black male from Detroit, Mich.
(CORE field secretary and student, Wayne State University)
Also on the Trailways were journalist Simeon Booker and
photographer Ted Gaffney on assignment for Jet magazine.
Gaffney's camera and film were later destroyed in the
Rev. Fred Shuttleworth
(1922-2011) was instrumental in
rescuing the Riders in Anniston
and protecting them in
Birmingham. He was also pastor of
Bethel Baptist Church from 1953 -
1961 and Co-Founder, Southern
Christian Leadership Conference.
"When white men and
black men are beaten up
together, the day is
coming when they will
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth