May 14th, 1961

Freedom Riders Attacked in Anniston, Alabama

The Freedom Riders, an interracial group of civil rights activists, began riding interstate buses in 1961 to test Supreme Court decisions that prohibited discrimination in interstate passenger travel. Their efforts were unpopular with whites who supported segregation.

On Mother's Day, May 14, 1961, a Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders arrived at the Anniston, Alabama, bus station shortly after 1:00 p.m. The station was locked shut. A mob of fifty men led by Ku Klux Klan leader William Chapel and armed with pipes, chains, and bats, smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the Riders' bus. Though warned hours earlier that a mob had gathered at the station, local police did not arrive until after the assault had begun.

Once the attack subsided, police pretended to escort the crippled bus to safety, but instead abandoned it at the Anniston city limits. Another armed white mob arrived and the Freedom Riders refused to exit the bus. They received no aid from two highway patrolmen. When a member of the mob tossed a firebomb into a broken window on the bus, others in the mob attempted to trap the passengers inside the burning vehicle by barricading the door but were scared away by fuel tank explosions. The Riders escaped the ensuing flames and smoke through the bus windows and main door, only to be attacked and beaten by the mob outside. After police finally dispersed their attackers, the Freedom Riders received substandard, limited medical care before being evacuated in a convoy organized by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.