A Half Century Ago At the Bus Station

Photo by Kate Shuster

Fifty years ago last Friday, a group of brave young souls arrived on a bus to test the integration of our Greyhound station and others along the route. Discrimination had, after all, been outlawed in the Boynton v. Virginia Supreme Court decision 6 months earlier.

To retell the tragic events of that day, after all the excellent national and local media coverage of the past few days, would be redundant. So instead, I’d like to share with you my impressions of the 50th anniversary commemoration.

I left my office about 9:30am, knowing that parking anywhere near the Greyhound site on South Court Street would be at a real premium. Thank goodness I did, because there were street closings all around the site. I finally parked what we call “the hat-mobile,” illegally I must confess, in the lot of First Baptist’s Caring Center. Jay Wolf, I owe you a donation! From there it was only half a block west to Court Street.

Imagine my surprise when I was met by one of MPD’s finest, a female officer in full dress uniform, guarding the access to the activities in full view. When I introduced myself and told her I was there to attend the commemoration, I was escorted by another uniformed officer all the way to the registration table staffed by employees of the host organization, the Alabama Historical Commission. Hats off to them, among others, for preservation of this most significant historical site.

Police presence was only one layer of security. During the speeches themselves, the whomp-whomp-whomp of a helicopter or helicopters was clearly audible overhead. Clearly, Montgomery officials were committed not to have even a moment’s trouble at this event. What a change from the bloodshed and mayhem that made the site worthy of preservation.

The crowd was orderly and appreciative. I heard Freedom Rider Catherine Burks-Brooks describe hearing white Montgomery women shouting “Kill the niggers,” and could not help but be stunned by the contrast to what I saw around me: people of goodwill of both races, sitting happily next to one another as neighbors and even friends. A few heads nodded knowingly and members of both races murmured their disapproval.

Some of you may have read my earlier post about attending the dedication of an historic marker at the Greyhound station some years ago. At that event, I was wracked with guilt about my then-youthful ignorance of civil rights. Well, Friday, instead of guilt I swelled with pride — pride not about my having matured in knowledge of the issues, but at the leadership and people of Montgomery who have obviously moved so very far beyond the hate that divided them those 50 years ago.

“I think the Freedom Rides have changed America forever. The City of Montgomery is a better city, Alabama a better state and now we are a better people,” said Rep. John Lewis. “I say thank you, because now we are now one people, we are one family and we are one bus.”

Amen, John Lewis. And let us continue to study and commemorate this event and others like it. For, as the wise philosopher George Santanya wrote, “‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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