In this file photo from 1961, Freedom Riders stand at the bus station in Montgomery. / Advertiser file
11:53 PM, Oct. 27, 2012
Demolition seemed certain for the former Greyhound Bus Station where Freedom Riders arrived in Montgomery in 1961, until an effort rose up to save it.
“It was an old bus station in the eyes of many, but many of us saw otherwise,” said U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who helped lead the effort to preserve the building.
The bus station is now the site of the Freedom Rides Museum, which is being recognized with a prestigious award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The museum is one of the 22 winners of the 2012 National Preservation Awards.
Ellen Mertins, outreach coordinator for the Alabama Historical Commission, said the award is a considerable honor.
“Although they give out 20 or so awards a year, only a few are marquee awards. This is one of the marquee awards,” Mertins said.
Valencia Crisafulli, vice president of partnerships for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, helped select the museum for the award.
Crisafulli said one of the reasons she chose the museum is because the history of the site itself is so compelling and the story is told so well.
“It is an important story. I think it is one of the most important awards we have given in a long time,” Crisafulli said.
The Freedom Riders were a group of college students traveling to different locations in the South for peaceful protests against segregation.
They arrived in Montgomery on May 20, 1961, and were greeted by an angry mob and attacked.
The museum opened in 2011 on the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders’ arrival.
Crisafulli said the location of the museum also is remarkable because it is right next to the very federal courthouse where so many important civil rights rulings were made.
Thompson agreed that location of the museum lends it symbolic power.
“(The museum) is literally in the shadow of the courthouse that was taking up the very issue that was being carried out in the bus station itself,” Thompson said.
The museum also is being recognized for the partnership it took to create it.
The U.S. General Services Administration, the Alabama Historical Commission and the Greyhound Bus Station Advisory Committee were among the entities that helped bring the museum to fruition.
The award will be presented Nov. 2 in Spokane, Wash. Representatives from the General Services Administration, the Alabama Historical Commission and the Black Heritage Council will receive the award.
Thompson said it is gratifying to him that the museum is receiving recognition.
“It really personally feels very good that it has gotten the award because so much work went into it. It is a confirmation of the effort itself,” he said.