Gas light marks the spot where Freedom Riders were beaten in Ann - WSMV News 4

Gas light marks the spot where Freedom Riders were beaten in Anniston

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The light is unveiled. Source: WBRC video The light is unveiled. Source: WBRC video
Source: WBRC video Source: WBRC video

A light that will burn continuously now lights up an alley where a mob once attacked a Freedom Riders' bus in Anniston.

Alagasco officials joined Anniston's mayor and two former Freedom Riders, Charles Person and Bill Harbor, in unveiling a small plaque explaining the light.

It's across an alley from the former location of the Greyhound Bus Depot, where a mob attacked a bus full of Freedom Riders on Mother's Day 1961. The mob then pursue the bus, which was headed to Birmingham, and burned it on Highway 202.

Person was on the less-talked-about bus that day, a Trailways bus leaving a separate stop a few blocks away.

"We were so badly beaten when we left Anniston, that there's no way, if our bus had been burned, that we could've gotten off," Person recalled to the crowd.

Bill Harbor recalled hearing about the bus burning incident, while at college in Nashville. The Piedmont native joined the Freedom Riders in Birmingham, only to be escorted to the state line under orders from Birmingham Police Commissioner "Bull" Conner.

"They tell us to go back to Nashville to school, but I don't know what happened to us, guess we were just too young and too crazy at that time, we had to make a difference," Harbor recalled.

He said he went on to experience beatings in Montgomery and a prison stay in Mississippi.

Alagasco President and CEO Dudley Reynolds said similar lights have been placed in Birmingham, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, locations that also played important roles in Alabama's Civil Rights history. One will go up next month in Selma, a continous, gas-powered flame like all of the others.

Despite the brutality and hate they experienced in 1961, Person and Harbor both say they've healed and they're glad to see Anniston heading in a different direction 52 years later. Each received a key to the city from Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart.

"I think we need to shine a light on Anniston because most people's opinions of Anniston is based on that day back in 1961, but that is not the Anniston that we see today," said Person.

Copyright 2013 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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