PBS's American Experience makes available in streaming format its documentary of the Freedom Riders from the PBS website. With that and with a more detailed photographic slide show of the information panels on Anniston's Burning Bus murals, I seek to bring my students to an awareness of ways that history, especially the history of the violence that met the Freedom Riders outside Anniston, is worthy of a revisiting in today's times. I want to bring into my classroom an appreciation for the bus murals that depict the full history of the incident so that students attending Jacksonville State University can appreciate the effort it has taken to confront a contentious past and use the knowledge of racial antagonisms as a vehicle for bridging cultures.
My target audience is Freshman Composition, where I normally teach the second level of the course, stressing literature modes of poetry, drama, fiction. I have long had a research project that allows for students to write on one of the pressing social issues: being ethnic in America, the need to be stewards of our environment, the ways we end gender bias. Using my opportunity to refine my specialties through a modest JSU Faculty Research Grant, I demonstrate the values of studying how the community of Anniston turned a hate crime incident into a force for positive change, even as leaders recognized that to broadcast their integrationist intentions publicly was dangerous.
I stress in this account directed to teachers that we must more assertively guide students to forge a persuasive remedy to situations they see around them. They work primarily with literature but will also have a visual resource of historical significance much closer to JSU, one that we can hope bridges differences and begins to mold our citizens of tomorrow.
Gates, Joanne E. "The Bus Murals of Anniston: Teaching the Freedom Riders History." Presentation at ACETA (Alabama College English Teachers Association), March 9, 2013.