Last updated: January 5, 2021
An interracial group of "Freedom Riders" set out in May 1961 on a journey from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans through the Deep South. In organizing the 1961 Freedom Rides, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was building upon earlier efforts of other civil rights organizations, including the 1947 "Journey of Reconciliation," an integrated bus ride through the segregated Upper South. The purpose of the 1961 Freedom Rides was to test if bus station facilities in the Deep South were complying with U.S. Supreme Court decisions: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) had reversed the infamous "separate but equal" doctrine in public education, and Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960) had struck down Virginia laws compelling segregation in interstate travel.
On May 4, 1961, in Washington, D.C., eleven Freedom Riders split into two groups and boarded two buses, a Greyhound bus and a Trailways bus, bound for New Orleans. The Greyhound bus carrying the first of these groups left Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, May 14, and pulled into a Greyhound bus station in Anniston, Alabama later that day. There, a segregationist mob, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, violently attacked the Freedom Riders. Throughout their journey, the Riders and their supporters continued to be attack again and again. Finally, on May 20, with the help of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s appeal to the Kennedy Administration and Alabama Governor John Patterson, the National Guard was brought in to stop the violence.
Media coverage of the Freedom Rides inspired many people to take action and join the effort to end racial inequality. Over the summer of 1961, the number of Freedom Riders grew to over 400, many of whom were arrested and jailed for their activism. The Freedom Rides of 1961 focused national attention on Southern segregationists' disregard for U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the violence that they used to enforce unconstitutional State and local segregation laws and practices. The Freedom Rides forced the Federal Government to take steps to ban segregation in interstate bus travel. On May 29, 1961, Attorney General Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to issue regulations banning segregation, and the ICC subsequently decreed that by November 1, 1961, bus carriers and terminals serving interstate travel had to be integrated.
A project through the African American Civil Rights Grant Program, which works to document, interpret, and preserve the sites and stories related to the African American struggle to gain equal rights, funded work to restore the former Geyhound Bus Station and convert it into the Welcome Center to the Anniston Civil Rights Trail. The project focused on rehabilitating exterior and interior of the structure by removing non-historic components of the building and adding interpretive materials.