In this video segment adapted from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn about the response of one young Southerner to her community's violent confrontation with the Freedom Riders in May 1961. Janie Forsyth, a 12-year-old girl living on the outskirts of Anniston, Alabama, was moved to assist injured Freedom Riders when their bus was firebombed outside her father's grocery store. Her action earned her the hostility of her community, which felt that violent resistance was required to preserve the existing segregated order.
This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.
Democracy in Action Study Guide (Document)
Many white citizens in the South argued that resistance to the Freedom Rides was necessary to preserve what they saw as a regional "way of life." For those citizens of Anniston, the fifth largest city in Alabama, this meant allegiance to economic and social structures that were already in precarious condition. The city's iron furnace and clay pipe industries, which had provided the primary means of local employment for years, would both be decimated by the decade's end, placing even greater importance on two U.S. military installations, Fort McClellan and the Anniston Army Depot. Roughly 30 percent of Anniston's 33,000 citizens were African American, but segregation, discrimination, and unapologetic racism among the white citizens kept them in their place. Anniston could claim an established branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1961, but it was also home to many members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), some of whom had participated in the beating of popular African American singer Nat King Cole after a 1955 performance in Birmingham.
Janie Forsyth, a 12-year-old girl nicknamed “Smiler” who was best known for prowess in spelling bees, was an unlikely candidate for breaking with this Alabama way of life. Yet she was so shocked when a violent mob firebombed a bus and attacked Freedom Riders outside her father's store on May 14, 1961, that she brought a pail of water and Dixie cups from her family’s home and began ministering to the injured passengers. One of those she helped, Mable Hoffman, was captured in a photo with the burning bus in the background. This photo became emblematic of the ongoing effort to end illegal discrimination. Janie's actions, motivated by her religious beliefs, proved to be a pivotal moment in her life. She ultimately left Alabama and settled in California; today she works as a technical writer for UCLA. In contrast, many white Southerners of all ages believed at the time that their African American neighbors were content with segregation, and that those who supported the Freedom Riders were outsiders with ties to Communism.
The subsequent history of civil rights efforts in Anniston illustrates the struggles and violence that preceded victory. A group of local citizens formed a Human Relations Council a year after the town was visited by the Freedom Riders, but the group's attempt to integrate the public library was met with more mob violence in September 1963. This prompted President Kennedy to order federal troops to escort a group of African American ministers into the library a day later. In July 1965, a Klan member in Anniston killed a black civil rights demonstrator; however, community sentiment had clearly evolved when the Klan member was found guilty. This was the first time in the South that an all-white jury delivered a guilty verdict in the murder of an African American by a white person.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.