Secretary Jewell, National Park Service Director Jarvis Hear Community’s Vision and Support for Proposed National Park System Additions in Alabama

Public Meetings Focused on Preserving Civil Rights History

10/28/2016

Date: October 28, 2016
Contact: Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on Thursday heard overwhelming public support for proposals to add historic locations in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, to the National Park System in an effort to more fully tell America’s Civil Rights story. Secretary Jewell and Director Jarvis traveled to Alabama at the invitation of U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Birmingham Mayor William Bell and Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart.

“It was extraordinarily moving to meet the Freedom Riders and people on the front-lines of the struggle for Civil Rights in the segregated south,” said Secretary Jewell. “It is clear from the stories we heard and the places we visited in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama that there are important chapters in the story of our nation’s march toward a more perfect union that need to be accurately told nationally so that current and future generations of Americans never forget our painful past and the lessons of history that will shape a brighter future.”

After touring sites in Anniston Thursday morning, Jewell and Jarvis attended a community meeting at Anniston’s First United Methodist Church. They then toured sites in Birmingham and attended a community meeting at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Comments from the public at both sites were overwhelmingly in favor of including the sites in the National Park System.

In addition to community support, there are Congressional proposals for the National Park Service to operate new historical parks, in Anniston from Congressman Mike Rogers, and in Birmingham from Congresswoman Sewell. There is also support from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart and Birmingham Mayor William Bell for President Obama to consider using his authority under the Antiquities Act to create national monuments in the two communities.

“We came to Anniston and Birmingham to hear the local vision for these important sites. The people of Alabama have passion to go along with the vision,” said Director Jarvis. “These stories of the Civil Rights Movement – what people lived and died for – are part of Alabama but also part of the larger American narrative and those stories, along with the sites we visited today are certainly worthy of bringing into the National Park System.”

On Mother’s Day 1961, a Freedom Riders bus was attacked at the Greyhound Bus Station in Anniston and was attacked again and burned just six miles out of town on Highway 78. The Riders remained on board while the mob hit the bus with bats and pipes and slashed its tires. The mob, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, firebombed the stranded bus, and tried holding the doors shut. Eventually the Freedom Riders were able to make it off the bus but were attacked and beaten until Alabama State Troopers intervened.

The Freedom Riders were a group of Civil Rights Activists, both black and white, who tested integration laws on the interstate bus system. The incident shocked the nation and inspired more people to join the fight against the injustices of Jim Crow laws in the American South .

Both the Greyhound Bus Station and the bus burning site are proposed for protection as part of Congressman Mike Rogers’s legislation H.R. 5882 to establish the Freedom Riders National Historical Park.

In 1963, Birmingham was the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement. Activists like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Sr., and countless unnamed heroes gathered there to demand equality for all people, and to integrate all aspects of society. Congresswoman Sewell’s legislation, H.R. 4817, to establish the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park, would span portions of the Birmingham Civil Rights Historic District and proposes to include the following sites:

  • 16th Street Baptist Church, target of September 1963 bombing that killed four young girls during a Bible study. This act of domestic terrorism became a galvanizing force for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Bethel Baptist Church, the church of Rev. Shuttlesworth. The church, its parishioners and leadership played pivotal roles in the battle for equality in Birmingham, including the 1961 Freedom Ride and the ‘Project C’ (‘C’ for confrontation) protests that challenged segregation in Birmingham in 1963.
  • A.G. Gaston Motel, built in 1954, and regarded as a ‘historic monument to black entrepreneurship’ in a time of racial segregation. Owned by a prominent African American businessman, the motel served as home base for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and ‘Project C’. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized its significance almost a year ago. 
  • Kelly Ingram Park, where protesters, including many children, were violently disrupted by police dogs and powerful water cannons. Images of the brutal police response to peaceful protesters spread across the country, shocking the conscience of the nation and the world.
  • Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opened in 1992 as a center for the public and scholars to examine our country's Civil Rights history as well as broader subjects such as equality and race.