Living History: A Freedom Rider Shares His Story

 ========= Old Image Removed =========1Array
(
    [_wp_attached_file] => Array
        (
            [0] => 2017/02/BCRIbusburn.jpg
        )

    [_wp_attachment_metadata] => Array
        (
            [0] => a:5:{s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:411;s:4:"file";s:23:"2017/02/BCRIbusburn.jpg";s:5:"sizes";a:8:{s:6:"medium";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-336x230.jpg";s:5:"width";i:336;s:6:"height";i:230;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-140x140.jpg";s:5:"width";i:140;s:6:"height";i:140;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"wbhm-icon";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:21:"BCRIbusburn-80x80.jpg";s:5:"width";i:80;s:6:"height";i:80;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-600x338.jpg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:338;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-454x311.jpg";s:5:"width";i:454;s:6:"height";i:311;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-387x265.jpg";s:5:"width";i:387;s:6:"height";i:265;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:28:"ab-block-post-grid-landscape";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-600x400.jpg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:400;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"BCRIbusburn-125x125.jpg";s:5:"width";i:125;s:6:"height";i:125;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}}s:10:"image_meta";a:12:{s:8:"aperture";s:1:"0";s:6:"credit";s:0:"";s:6:"camera";s:0:"";s:7:"caption";s:0:"";s:17:"created_timestamp";s:1:"0";s:9:"copyright";s:0:"";s:12:"focal_length";s:1:"0";s:3:"iso";s:1:"0";s:13:"shutter_speed";s:1:"0";s:5:"title";s:0:"";s:11:"orientation";s:1:"0";s:8:"keywords";a:0:{}}}
        )

    [_imagify_optimization_level] => Array
        (
            [0] => 1
        )

    [_imagify_data] => Array
        (
            [0] => a:2:{s:5:"stats";a:3:{s:13:"original_size";i:253206;s:14:"optimized_size";i:172076;s:7:"percent";d:32.039999999999999;}s:5:"sizes";a:9:{s:4:"full";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:51:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2017/02/BCRIbusburn.jpg";s:13:"original_size";i:95266;s:14:"optimized_size";i:58357;s:7:"percent";d:38.740000000000002;}s:9:"thumbnail";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:6:"medium";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:59:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2017/02/BCRIbusburn-336x230.jpg";s:13:"original_size";i:21507;s:14:"optimized_size";i:15364;s:7:"percent";d:28.559999999999999;}s:9:"wbhm-icon";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:59:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2017/02/BCRIbusburn-600x338.jpg";s:13:"original_size";i:50962;s:14:"optimized_size";i:36797;s:7:"percent";d:27.800000000000001;}s:20:"wbhm-featured-square";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:59:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2017/02/BCRIbusburn-300x300.jpg";s:13:"original_size";i:23569;s:14:"optimized_size";i:16987;s:7:"percent";d:27.93;}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:59:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2017/02/BCRIbusburn-454x311.jpg";s:13:"original_size";i:34578;s:14:"optimized_size";i:24980;s:7:"percent";d:27.760000000000002;}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:59:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2017/02/BCRIbusburn-387x265.jpg";s:13:"original_size";i:27324;s:14:"optimized_size";i:19591;s:7:"percent";d:28.300000000000001;}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}}}
        )

    [_imagify_status] => Array
        (
            [0] => success
        )

    [_media_credit] => Array
        (
            [0] => Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
        )

    [_navis_media_credit_org] => Array
        (
            [0] => 
        )

    [_navis_media_can_distribute] => Array
        (
            [0] => 1
        )

)
1565915829 
1487803493

After the fuel tank blew, just outside Anniston on Mother's Day, 1961.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The “Freedom Riders” were civil rights activists, black and white, who challenged segregation by riding buses across the South. In 1961 near Anniston, a mob slashed the tires of one of those buses, set it on fire, and beat some of the passengers. Freedom Rider Hank Thomas was one of them. He recalls for WBHM in vivid detail what it was like to be on that bus. *Language advisory: in retelling his story, Thomas uses a derogatory term for African-Americans that was common then.

Below are some highlights.

Ugly History, Impossible Choice

“The crowd continued beating on the bus. A lot of them had just come from church … and they’d brought some of their children with them. And the purpose was to ‘see the Freedom Riders get what was coming to them.’ … Pretty soon, a firebomb was thrown through the back of one of the broken-out windows. And within a few seconds, there was a fire. And now the bus is filling completely with smoke. I knew if I got off that bus, that mob outside would kill me. If I stayed on the bus, the flames would kill me. I erroneously thought that if I breathed in that smoke, that smoke would put me to sleep, and that’s the way I was going to die. So for all practical purposes, at age 19, I had decided to commit suicide.”

Actors pose for a future statue portraying Janie Forsyth McKinney given beaten Freedom Rider Hank Thomas a glass of water.

Freedom Riders Park Committee
Actors pose for a future statue portraying Janie Forsyth McKinney given beaten Freedom Rider Hank Thomas a glass of water.

Small Hands of Mercy

“We were all suffering with smoke inhalation. And as we were all sprawled on the ground, a young white girl — Janie Forsyth, 12 years old at the time — ran in and out of her house bringing us water. That little 12-year-old girl taught them the meaning of Christianity.”

Will the Police Officer End It All?

“He pulled his pistol, and I thought he was about to shoot me. And he fired his pistol in the air. And he said to the crowd, ‘That’s enough, you’ve had your fun.’ Of course I was glad to … get out of there alive, but I began to understand the small part I had to play in making this country what it is today. We have made tremendous progress … We have changed the character of the country. And I am so glad to have been a part of the army that won that battle.”

Original interview aired 02/2017:

Extended interview:

Hank Thomas on barely surviving an earlier, similar incident in South Carolina, and on Anniston, Alabama’s reputation:

Hank Thomas on why he fought overseas for a country that hadn’t yet recognized his full humanity:

 

Local health officials plan to increase monkeypox vaccinations

Health officials will soon begin offering intradermal vaccinations, reaching more people with less vaccine.

Combating gun violence remains a top focus of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As violent crime in Birmingham and the surrounding area continues to increase, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Prim Escalona, uses a variety of tools and strategies to get firearms and bad guys off the street.

Some 3rd graders in local schools could be held back under new law 

This is the first school year that third graders who do not read at grade level by the end of the school year must be held back in that grade, rather than passed on to fourth grade. The Alabama Literacy Act was passed several years ago, but its implementation was delayed because of the pandemic.

How one Birmingham custodian preps for the first day of school

When the kids are away, the custodial and maintenance staff in schools work all summer long. One custodian told WBHM about what it takes to keep the kids happy and healthy as they trade sunshine for fluorescent lights.

Dollar store workers are organizing for a better workplace. Just don’t call it a union.

Fired up by a labor movement that’s seen big union victories recently, dollar store workers are organizing in their own way to improve work conditions.

Bill Clark has a knack for making comebacks. Will he make one more? 

Bill Clark has had to overcome some serious hurdles during his career at UAB, as well as in his personal life. He not only resurrected a football program that had been neglected—and then out-right killed—he’s also been fighting through what he’s called a serious injury since childhood.

More Arts and Culture Coverage