On May 4, 1961, an interracial group of “Freedom Riders” boarded two buses in Washington, D.C. bound for New Orleans to test whether southern bus stations were following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in interstate travel. On Sunday, May 14, the Greyhound bus was met by an angry mob in Anniston, Alabama that broke windows and slashed tires. Eventually police officers cleared a path for the bus, but it was forced to stop just five miles outside town where a bundle of flaming rags caused an explosion and fire inside the vehicle. Everyone escaped the bus although there were attempts to trap the seven Freedom Riders on board. Joseph Postiglione’s iconic photo of the burning bus appeared in newspapers across the country, encouraging more Freedom Riders and changes to laws.
Greyhound bus depot, Trailways bus station, site of bus burning
President Obama established Freedom Riders National Monument in 2017, so the park is still under development, but they do already have an outstanding Junior Ranger program. The National Park Service (NPS) has temporary displays inside its visitor center in the historic Anniston bus station and outside is a beautiful mural of a Greyhound bus and an audio recounting of the 1961 events by Hank Thomas, a survivor. Down the road on Highway 202, the bus burning site is currently just an informational display in a field. We were there for the 60th anniversary events, when 400 luminaria were placed to represent the total number of Freedom Riders. Several other murals can be found around Anniston, including a second Tramways bus at Noble and 9th Street with Charles Person’s audio description of events that took place that same day. We also recommend the excellent Freedom Rides Museum (admission charged) in Montgomery, Alabama, where similar violence took place on May 20, 1961.
In the alley next to the NPS visitor center, in front of the life-sized mural of a 1961 Greyhound bus is a lamp dedicated in August 2013 to the bravery of the Freedom Riders.
Street parking is free outside the NPS visitor center. To access the bus burning site, be sure to park off Old Birmingham Highway and not along the busy Highway 202 shoulder.
South of Interstate 20, campgrounds can be found in Cheaha State Park and Talladega National Forest, which also provides dispersed camping and great backpacking opportunities.
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)
Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)
Explore More – Who was the future U.S. Congressman who took part in the 1961 Freedom Rides?