May 18, 2020

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Historical Commission

"TRAVELIN' DOWN FREEDOM'S MAINLINE" FREEDOM RIDES MUSEUM HONORS 59th ANNIVERSARY WITH STORYTELLING SERIES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Andi Martin, Marketing and Public Relations Manager  

andi.martin@ahc.alabama.gov, 334-230-2680

 

May 18, 2020

 

“Travelin’ Down Freedom’s Mainline”

Freedom Rides Museum Honors 59th Anniversary with Storytelling Series

 

(Montgomery, AL) The Freedom Rides Museum, a historic property of the Alabama Historical Commission, is proud to announce its virtual storytelling series – “Travelin’ Down Freedom’s Mainline” – taking place May 20-21, 2020 as a commemoration of the 59th anniversary of the Rides. The Freedom Rides Museum has partnered with witnesses, historians, and the community to spotlight the people and places involved and impacted by the Freedom Rides in Montgomery. Statewide, the Freedom Rides Museum has coordinated efforts with the National Park Service Freedom Riders National Monument and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to pay homage to the men and women involved in the Freedom Rides campaign that crossed Alabama and changed the world in the summer of 1961.

 

Travelin’ Down Freedom’s Mainline” takes you on a virtual journey into the history books bringing forward some of the stories of every day citizens who intervened in the name of justice, churches that boldly shielded foot soldiers, and law-makers who changed the course of history by defending the equality of all citizens. This event is entirely digital. Patrons, civil rights enthusiasts, and history buffs alike are invited to experience the journey on May 20 and May 21 on the Freedom Rides Museum Facebook page.

 

Storytellers include:  Freedom Rider Dr. Bernard Lafayette recalls his memories from the day the bus pulled into the station; Attorney Peter Canfield, counselor Jones Day and Attorney Laurel Lucey – all former law clerks of Judge Frank M. Johnson  provide insight into the judge, a man on the right side of the law; Rebekah Davis, Limestone County Archivist, profiles Ardmore's little-known role in the Rides; Anna Moore-Apiri honors the minute the bus arrived in Montgomery with inspirational song; retired Veteran journalist Tim Lennox reveals the role of the media in the Freedom Rides; Sarah Worley, actress and Montgomery native, brings to life the words of Civil Rights advocate Virginia Durr; Historian and archivist, Dr. Howard Robinson, Alabama State University and the National Center for Civil Rights, reminds us of the significant roles that Reverend and Mrs. Abernathy played in the Civil Rights Movement;  Reverend E. Baxter Morris, Pastor at First Baptist “Brick-a-Day” Church, describes the terrifying siege at the church during a rally in support of the Freedom Riders; Henry Terry, Director of Choirs, George Washington Carver High School brings forth the spirit of the Freedom Rides through music; Civil Rights Activist Dr. Valda Harris Montgomery shares with the us how her parents Dr. Richard and Mrs. Vera Harris sheltered the Freedom Riders in their home that served as safe haven and key meeting place for the Riders; and Dorothy Walker, Site Director Freedom Rides Museum, details the harrowing events that unraveled after the arrival of the Freedom Riders.

 

“We are excited to present this storytelling series in honor of the 59th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides,” said Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director of the Alabama Historical Commission. “These narratives emphasize the sanctity of place and the history that has occurred there. As guardians of historic sites, we know the power of standing in the footsteps of history. We encourage you to visit these locations when they are open and experience the profound notion that you share the same space as the foot soldiers whose tenacity defied prejudice and created a better world for today.”

 

Men and women of diverse ages, races, and creeds, called themselves Freedom Riders, traveling under the banner of non-violent protest and the right to participate in desegregated travel as set forth in Boynton v. Virginia and the Interstate Commerce Act, which forbade racial segregation in public transportation. Their goal was to travel through the Deep South all the way through to New Orleans, LA in commemoration of the seventh anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The Riders did not begin or end their journey in Montgomery, AL, but their arrival changed the city and our nation.

 

Their Alabama journey carried them through Anniston, AL where their bus was firebombed; a second group of Riders on a Trailways Bus made it to Birmingham, AL where they were met by more violence. Finally, the last group of Riders, comprised of several students from Nashville, made their way to the Capitol city. Unbeknownst to those traveling to Montgomery from Birmingham, the protection of state police escorts drifted away, and the Riders, none of whom were older than 22, stepped off a bus at the Montgomery Greyhound Station on May 20, 1961 at 10:23am. They were met by a mob that grew into the thousands as the city descended into chaos. Riders, including now-Congressman John Lewis, Jim Zwerg, Bernard Lafayette, and others, were brutally beaten. The ensuing events surrounding their arrival initiated a chain reaction all the way up to the Federal Courts and the Kennedy Administration that resulted in landmark rulings by Federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, which continue to shape Civil Rights law today. Their goal was to help end racial segregation in public transportation – and they did.

 

The 1961 Freedom Rides were a watershed event, one Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as “a psychological turning point in our whole struggle.” The historic bus station stands today as a testament to the effectiveness of nonviolent direct-action protest and how these methods were employed by ordinary citizens to garner broad support for the civil rights movement from national leaders.

 

May is designated as National Preservation Month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is a special time to celebrate the unique places that make up the fabric of our communities and honor the diversity in those histories. The timeline of Preservation Month is especially appropriate for the Freedom Rides Anniversary. A visitor to the Freedom Rides Museum, where the Freedom Riders repelled hatred with Nonviolent Direct Action, can see the federal courthouse where Judge Johnson shaped the law, and the Moore Building where the White Citizen’s Council used behind-the-scenes intimidation tactics to threaten equality. These buildings were silent witnesses to the violence spilling on to Court Street and the corner of Adams Avenue on that fateful day.

 

When Greyhound moved out of the historic downtown bus station building in the mid-1990s, the General Services Administration which maintains the historic Federal Courthouse next door, purchased the property with intentions to demolish it to make room for an addition to the courthouse. The Alabama Historical Commission, representatives of the Federal Court – including Judge Myron Thompson and Judge W. Harold Albritton - along with other concerned citizens in the community, rallied to preserve what remains of the historic bus station. Because of these efforts, the space was protected, preserved, and interpreted and is now a museum telling the stories of the Freedom Rides on the same hallowed grounds where they stood 59 years ago.

 

Dorothy Walker, Site Director of the Freedom Rides Museum, said “We are honored to share the story of their courage and commitment to justice and equality for the thousands of visitors from around the world who visit the Freedom Rides Museum each year.”

 

The Freedom Rides Museum, located in the historic Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station, profiles the courageous actions of more than 430 ordinary people who risked their lives and freedom for equal treatment under the law and is one of only two sites in the nation exclusively dedicated to interpreting the Freedom Rides and its enormous impact on American civil rights history. It is one of few state-operated Civil Rights sites in Alabama. 

 

“The actual scene of the event, or people may call it the scene of the crime, is important because as our young people come along, they have got to be able to put it into perspective. It is just not simply a narrative, but you can see the actual place. And that’s why I’m so glad the museum is there, at that same bus station,” said Freedom Rider Dr. Bernard Lafayette. “It shows it is a reality, and it did happen. We can go revisit that and be able to imagine it happening. It just isn’t an artform, it is a reality of our history.”

 

Over the last two years, the National Park Service has awarded grants to the Alabama Historical Commission for a new Freedom Rides Museum exhibit plan, conceived by internationally recognized Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a museum design firm that has planned exhibits in the United States Holocaust Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Commission has also received National Park Service grant funding to rehabilitate the Moore Building as additional interpretive and exhibit space for the Museum. In 2018, the Commission was gifted a vintage 1958 Greyhound Bus by the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, MN. With donated funding support in place for the bus renovation, it is presently being restored and enhanced as a state-of-the-art mobile museum to tell the story of non-violent protest. The bus will debut in 2021 for the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. 

 

About the Freedom Rides Museum
Working with concerned citizens, The Alabama Historical Commission saved the Greyhound Bus Station from demolition in the mid-1990s. The Museum is located at the intersection of S. Court St. and Adams Avenue in downtown Montgomery. An award-winning exhibit on the building's exterior traces the Freedom Riders' history. It uses words and images of the Freedom Riders, those who supported them, and those who opposed them. Interior exhibits highlight additional information on the Freedom Riders and the way in which buildings were designed for racial segregation. Today, the Alabama Historical Commission operates this significant site.

 

About the Alabama Historical Commission

Located in historic downtown Montgomery at 468 S. Perry Street, the Alabama Historical Commission is the state historic preservation agency for Alabama. The agency was created by an act of the state legislature in 1966 with a mission to protect, preserve and interpret Alabama’s historic places. AHC works to accomplish its mission through two fields of endeavor: Preservation and promotion of state-owned historic sites as public attractions; and, statewide programs to assist people, groups, towns, and cities with local preservation activities. For a complete list of programs and properties owned and operated by the AHC, hours of operation, and admission fees please visit ahc.alabama.gov.  

 

 

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