Since being designated as Freedom Riders National Monument by former President Barak Obama in January, the old Greyhound Bus Station on 10th and Gurnee, and Freedom Riders Park, its companion site on Hwy 202, has seen visitors from across the nation and around the world.
A public celebration and street festival in May attracted local and regional dignitaries, elected officials, National Park Service representatives, and several hundred residents. The event featured commentary, dance performances, remembrances and recognitions of the acts of the Freedom Riders. Several Freedom Riders were in attendance including Hank Thomas, who was on the Greyhound Bus that was attacked at the Anniston bus station and then fire bombed six miles west of the City near present day Highway 202.
Most recently, the Anniston community was invited to an open house presented by the National Park Service (NPS) to offer suggestions on what they anticipate the Monument to become. Questions such as, What are the most important stories to tell about the Freedom Rides, helped focus conversations between NPS staff and residents. Throughout the event, participants spoke of the need for educational connections to K-12 schools and higher education, the economic impact of increased tourism, and the desire to collect historic items and photographs to add authenticity to the experience of visiting the Monument. (Public comment continues to be accepted here.) The public will have the chance to see the first draft of the foundation document from this process in early October.
Park Superintendent Reggie Tiller was appointed to Anniston and Birmingham’s newly-minted Civil Rights National Monuments by the National Park Service in May. Tiller attended Anniston’s open house and witnessed the enthusiasm and eagerness of the participants. Tiller says it reflects the public sentiment he’s found since arriving in Anniston. “Every segment of the community, from residents to city staff to elected officials to (Jacksonville State) University representatives have expressed to me their excitement about being able to share their history with the world. It’s exciting to me that people are excited about the National Park Service and this project.”
NPS anticipates that the first draft of the foundation document will be available for review and comment in early October 2017. After a formal period of public vetting, the foundation document will guide the NPS in moving forward with planning and interpretive identification for the Freedom Riders National Monument.
A foundation document identifies a national park unit’s core purpose and significance, its most important resources and values, and the interpretive themes that tell its unique and significant American story. This foundation document will be used to provide guidance for future management and planning decisions at Freedom Riders National Monument.
Tiller explained that, when one is able to see, hear and touch the past, it is often more meaningful and relevant than reading about it in a book. It is the creation of that multi-sensory experience that will be the next phase of the Freedom Riders National Monument experience.
The NPS project manager and architect for the FRNM project recently conducted a site visit to Anniston to document the floor plan, architecture and environmental setting of the old bus station. From their research, a draft report will guide the NPS cultural resource team in sourcing original materials, fabrics, equipment and graphics that would have been typical of a 1950’s era Greyhound Bus station. Even the logos for products that would have been sold in Greyhound Bus stations will be authentic to the time period. The goal is to give the visitor an authentic sensory experience that will put them in the shoes of the people who were there when the historic moment occurred.
The NPS is also drafting a report that will recommend the phases needed to establish the interpretive aspects of the site. This fall, representatives from NPS will return to Anniston to meet with a focus group of City of Anniston, Jacksonville State University, and local representatives to discuss the interpretive elements of the Monument.
Tiller says he has received calls from representatives of chambers of commerce and visitors centers near Birmingham that are searching for ways to connect their locations to the history and heritage of the Civil Rights national monument and related sites in Birmingham. Tiller explains, “Tourists prefer to go to one state a year and see five parks than drive from state to state. They’ll end up spending several days in Alabama instead of a day or two.” Good economic news for Alabama’s tourism industry.
Want to visit the Freedom Riders National Monument? Tiller is on site on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 2. Guests can tour the bus station in its current state (pre renovation), visit with Tiller (or a NPS volunteer) and see an outdoor interpretive mural exhibit with historic photographs beside the bus station. A passport stamping station is open at Anniston City Hall during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM.
Educators can schedule Tiller to visit their classrooms for an educational program on the Freedom Riders National Monument by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tiller says he has received and confirmed several classroom visits this fall.
Finally, Tiller says he is happy to open the bus station to groups by appointment. Just email him with plenty of advance notice.