The 56-year-old has carved a name for himself as a local voice that works to improve conditions for his community.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Potts was 6 years old when Ku Klux Klan members and a mob of white separatists attacked a busload of black and white Freedom Riders traveling through Anniston.
Potts’ namesake, local WDNG radio station owner Tom Potts Sr., broadcast live radio reports from the scene of the 1961 bus burning.
“That afternoon, Dad got a call from a KKK member, who said they were there to protect him and his kind, and that he needed to make that clear on the radio,” Potts said in a recent interview.
After the elder Potts made it clear that he wasn’t changing his radio report, he was threatened.
“You have a business and a young family,” the caller said.
“You don’t want anything to happen to that.”
In his editorial broadcast the next day, Potts Sr. stayed true to his original report and also recounted the phone conversation from the day before.
The senior Potts continued to stand by his convictions, airing a couple of scathing editorials about the bombing of Miller Sproull’s hardware business in 1964, and “about how unbelievable it was that we were accepting this kind of behavior in our community,” Potts Jr. said.
A week later, on Feb. 27, 1964, the radio station was bombed.
Nobody was injured, and there was only minor damage to the transmitter. The station was back on the air the next day.
For about a week, Potts Jr. and his sister had all-day police escorts with them at the bus stop, on the school bus and in the classroom.
“I admire him,” Potts said of his father. “It was a courageous stand he took.”
At the time, Potts said, his parents shielded their children from much of the ugliness of racism. “I don’t remember it being as divisive as what we hear now,” he said.
He said his father didn’t espouse racist ideas, but that he didn’t really challenge friends who did.
Years later, Potts remembers that the Revs. N.Q. Reynolds and John Nettles, along with Potts Sr., Hoyt Howell, father of former Anniston Mayor Chip Howell, and others formed the biracial COUL, the Committee on Unified Leadership.
To complement that effort, Potts Sr. started keeping WDNG airwaves open to callers 24 hours a day so people could call in and vent.
The agent of change over the years, Potts said, became a matter of people of both races communicating and participating in things together.
“Church, YMCA, schools …,” he said. “There are not so many mysteries, not so many myths, not so many questions, not so many fears. Those things got replaced by humor and discourse.”
Potts said he has mixed emotions about the bus burning – not about whether it was right or wrong, but about how much it should define the city of Anniston in those days.
“It was an awful image, but it was the action of just such a few people,” he said. “We need to do what we can to work toward other things we can be known for, and we have.”
Anthony Cook is managing editor of the Star. Contact him at 256-235-3558.