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60th Anniversary Freedom Riders Mural Unveiled at Wells Fargo Downtown

By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

A mural commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Riders was unveiled Wednesday outside a downtown Birmingham Wells Fargo location which stands on the former site of a train station where riders were attacked by a violent mob in 1961.

The Freedom Riders were made up of Civil Rights activists who traveled across the southern United States challenging segregation in bus terminals, restrooms, and restaurants.

The unveiling came as city, community and bank officials looked on at the Wells Fargo Motor Tower branch at 401 19th Street North.

Denise Gilmore, senior director of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of social justice and racial equity, said the mural is an “important memory for all who walk or drive” in the historic area.

“[People] will forever see that this [mural] stands as a testament to courage and perseverance. We acknowledge the sacrifice that these Freedom Riders made to bring about social and economic change, so that everyone can live with the dignity of civil and human rights,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore applauded Wells Fargo for the work it does in diverse communities added others should “work to ensure equity in business practices so that communities of color are treated in a fair and equitable manner and have an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.”

Leigh Collier, Wells Fargo Regional Banking Director, said, “[The mural] really provides the public for an opportunity to reflect on all the great historical things that have happened.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided in December 1960 that segregation on interstate buses was illegal, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized to have Black riders test the integration enforcement. The series of bus trips were known as the Freedom Rides.

On May 14, riders were attacked by a mob at what was then the Birmingham Trailways station. The riders left from Atlanta and, after enduring beatings by white passengers, were met in Birmingham by a group of white supremacists, who were armed with chains, sticks and clubs.

Catherine Burks-Brooks, a Birmingham native who was arrested twice for her involvement in the Freedom Rides, was present at the mural’s unveiling. Two other Freedom Riders, Charles Person and Hank Thomas, were also set to attend the event but were not able to make it.

The mural features numerous photographs Person, Thomas and Burks-Brooks, who as college students left their campuses to join the campaign for equality, as well as other Civil Rights leaders including James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality, which started the Freedom Rides, and Fred Shuttlesworth, who led the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in Birmingham.

In addition to the mural, the installation also includes a plaque to provide more detail about the individuals in the mural, as well as a QR code to watch a video about the history of the Freedom Riders.

The Wells Fargo branch on 18th Avenue South also has a mural tributing the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.