ATL marks Black History Month with exhibit honoring Freedom Riders

Filed in News by on February 24, 2016

Two original Freedom Riders helped ATL leaders mark Black History Month by introducing a photo exhibit depicting scenes from a 1961 firebombing of a bus in segregated Alabama.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport officials – along with dignitaries from the City of Atlanta and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) – saluted the civil rights activists Monday while calling attention to the exhibit, Courage Under Fire, in the Airport atrium.

“Much of the art here at Hartsfield-Jackson is created to instill a sense of place, but art also has the ability to educate and inform and that is the purpose of this exhibit,” Michael Smith, Airport senior deputy general manager, told a small crowd assembled for the event. “The history that this exhibit represents offers a look into a period of our history in society that bears remembering long beyond the confines of one single moment.”

The exhibit, on loan from the BCRI, is made up of a series of images taken by an Anniston Star photographer. Hours after the firebombing, the photos appeared in newspapers across the nation, catapulting the story of the Freedom Riders into the national consciousness.

Freedom Riders Hank Thomas and Charles Person participated in Monday’s event. Both were aboard buses on that fateful day in 1961, with Thomas barely escaping the bus that was firebombed.

“We were foot soldiers in this movement for civil rights,” Thomas said. “We are proud of what we did and the small part we played in changing this country.”

For his courage, Thomas was presented with the president’s key of service by Ceasar Mitchell, president of the Atlanta City Council.

“[Thomas’] willingness to stand up for injustice is forever tied to the historical moments of that powerful day,” Mitchell said. “And his determination to create a more just world for those who came after him will forever be a chapter in the larger story of how our country learned to change – one person, one day and one event at a time.”

The photo exhibit will run until March 3.

An Airport guest pauses in front of the Courage Under Fire exhibit in the atrium. The photo exhibit, which shows the 1961 firebombing of a bus in Alabama, will run until March 3.

A Hartsfield-Jackson guest pauses Monday in front of the Courage Under Fire photo exhibit in the atrium. The exhibit, which shows the 1961 firebombing of a bus in Alabama, will run until March 3. Photo by Shane Blatt

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