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Original Freedom Rider visits Anniston, recalls bus attack

By Chip Scarborough

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    ANNISTON, Alabama (WVTM) — Sunday marks the 62nd anniversary of the attack on Freedom Riders in Anniston.

It was May 14, 1961 when a white mob attacked a bus on its way to New Orleans. Those riding the bus were testing the enforcement of a Supreme Court decision, prohibiting discrimination on interstate buses. Instead of receiving police protection, officers abandoned the bus and it was soon attacked again and caught fire. Those riding the bus were helped to safety through the efforts of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth.

Charles Person made the trip from the Atlanta area to Anniston this weekend to mark the 62nd anniversary of a day that forever changed his life. Person is one of two surviving original Freedom Riders. He says he remembers May 14, 1961 quite well.

“There was a lot of hatred and a lot of name-calling and no desire to want to cooperate,” Person recalls. “But I find now that you have a town where people are working together, they’re able to accomplish things locally.”

A spirit he says didn’t exist in 1961 when he and other Freedom Riders were on a mission to test whether desegregation was really in play.

“The Freedom Ride was a test and many cities throughout the south failed, but the law was in our favor,” Person explains. “Another thing that people don’t realize is these were regular buses and also, we paid full fare. And you know, if you paid full fare. The same fare as everyone else, you should be treated like everyone else and that was not the case.”

One of the things the original Freedom Riders say they always tell young people is to make it a point to visit Anniston, Alabama. They urge parents to help make it happen.

“You don’t often times get to meet the people who are part of history and Mr. Person was a part of history,” parent Phillip Howard says. “A huge part! And so, it’s important that not only do they get to read about it, it’s important for them to be able to touch it. To be able to understand that it’s real and it’s not just in a book.”

Charles Person says what happened on May 14, 1961 was as real as it gets.

“We met with Dr. King in Atlanta before we came into Alabama,” Person adds. “And Dr. King told us, he says: ‘I understand terrible things await you in Alabama. The word is y’all won’t make it out of Alabama.’ And he was right.”

The Freedom Ride ultimately ended in Alabama, but it didn’t stop those aboard from sharing their experiences with future generations.

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