Make no mistake: The cowardly soul who set fire to the sign committed a condemnable act. They should be ashamed. We don’t know the motive — racism or simple sabotage — though we can make a fairly strong guess.
What we do know is that Anniston is a microcosm of virtually all American towns: there are people who see others as colorless friends and neighbors, and there are those who judge others by the color of their skin. They see the world through an us-vs.-them prism that stains humanity. Racism has been diminished, but it has not been wholly eradicated.
This weekend’s fire reminds us why the sign is needed in the first place. Once completed, the Freedom Riders Park will be a symbol of what happened here on Mother’s Day 1961 — and of the progress that’s been made since.
And, yes, progress has been made. Don’t believe otherwise.
The Anniston of 1961 — the Anniston of embraced segregation, of “colored” water fountains and separate-but-equal public schools — is in the past. The Anniston of today is a city of great needs, civic and fiscal, but one in which racial violence and sanctioned oppression are no longer rules of the day.
Yet, we, as are others, are troubled by last weekend’s fire. Sad it was to hear the words of Hank Thomas, a former Freedom Rider, who told The Star that he was “obviously disappointed and a wee bit shocked because the last couple years I’ve seen Annistonians, black and white, work together and be very open in trying to put this past behind them.
“I think this represents an undercurrent of racism still there.”
We believe that undercurrent is both minute and drawing its final breaths.
Park organizers deserve praise for quickly repairing a portion of the torched sign. That symbolism isn’t meaningless. Whatever their motivation, those who burned the sign can’t snuff out the spirit behind the creation of the Freedom Riders Park. If that was their goal, they failed.
Annistonians would be wise to heed this craven act for what it is: a reminder that as far as the city has come, there always will be a need to weed out hate and bigotry.