On Sunday May 14th 1961, on Mother’s Day, 200 nice-looking white people in Anniston, Alabama in the American South, dressed in their Sunday best, tried to kill a half dozen Freedom Riders, both black and white, on a Greyhound bus.
The Freedom Riders rode buses through the South to test Boynton v Virginia, a 1960 Supreme Court decision which said that buses and trains that went between states could no longer separate people by race. All those “Whites Only” and “For Colored Only” signs at their stations had to come down.
But the signs stayed up – and President Kennedy did nothing. Nothing. So the Freedom Riders forced the issue.
The first two buses left Washington, DC for New Orleans on May 4th. They got to Atlanta on May 13th with only a little trouble along the way.
That night they had dinner with Martin Luther King. They wanted him to come. He refused. He said they would never make it through the next state, Alabama.
The first stop in Alabama was Anniston. When the first bus arrived 200 whites appeared with clubs, iron pipes and baseball bats. They ran towards the bus and started pounding on it. They threw stones and broke the windows. They cut the tires.
The bus pulled away, but then whites jumped in their cars to follow the wounded bus.
Outside of town the tires went flat and the bus had to pull over. Whites were already there waiting for it. Little children were sitting on men’s shoulders to get a better view.
Someone threw a Molotov cocktail through a broken window and the bus caught on fire and filled with smoke. The Freedom Riders tried to get out, but the whites forced the doors shut, shouting, “Burn them alive!”, “Roast them!”, “Fry the goddamn niggers!”
A fuel tank blew up, forcing the whites to fall back. Everyone on the bus was able to get out – but then were beaten with bats and pipes.
The second fuel tank blew, sending out a rain of broken glass. The whites drew back again. A state policeman appeared and fired his gun in the air. The violence stopped.
The ambulance came. It took only whites. When the white Freedom Riders saw that, they got out of the ambulance. In the end the ambulance took the black Freedom Riders too.
The hospital refused to help them. It was under orders from the governor. Meanwhile a mob of whites had gathered outside threatening to burn down the hospital if they did not turn over the Freedom Riders.
It seemed like the hospital was going to give in. Just then a black minister from Birmingham, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, appeared along with other Christian ministers. They got them safely out of Anniston.
No one died, but one white Freedom Rider never walked again.
Most of those nice-looking white people were Klan. The FBI knew all about it in advance but did nothing to stop it.