Mob set fire to bus in Alabama, AR puts you inside

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I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and here’s The Backstory, a look at our biggest stories from the week. If you’d like to get The Backstory delivered to your inbox every week, register here.

You know the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who took buses to the Deep South in the 1960s to challenge Jim Crow’s practices that illegally forced black people into separate seats and theaters. waiting for stations.

But did you know that on May 14, 1961, a white mob surrounded one of the buses and set it on fire, killing almost seven passengers inside? When the bus arrived in Aniston, Alabama, about 50 white men swarmed over it, smashing windows with pliers, chains and brass knuckles, the glass raining down on those inside.

A man pointed a gun at Rider Genevieve Hughes, who tried to keep her eyes focused on the book in her lap. Someone took a knife and slashed the left front tire.

After about 20 minutes, local police (who had authorized the attack) cleared a path for the bus to continue. But after six miles that front tire started to whistle. The bus stopped. The crowd chasing them surrounded him again, demanding that the horsemen come out or be gassed. A man ignited a bundle of fabric, an incendiary bomb, and threw it through a broken window. The bus was on fire.

Two men blocked the exit, shouting, “Let’s burn them alive. Let’s burn them alive.

As a former seventh-grade US history teacher, Henderson knows the value of children experiencing an event, not just reading about it.

“So teaching students the history of WWII is different from taking my students to the Holocaust museum and they experiencing what it was like to be back in those spaces. that’s what AR does very well. It puts you in the spaces so that you can experience these things for yourself. “

In our Augmented reality experience, “A Dangerous Journey on the Road to Freedom,” Henderson tells the story using first-person memories of Hank Thomas, who was on that bus 60 years ago. He was 19 and had no plans to go, but his roommate fell ill and Thomas took his place.

“By accident, I became a Freedom Rider,” recalls Thomas in a story through Melissa Brown.

Experience it in augmented reality:A Dangerous Journey with Freedom Riders on the Road to Equal Rights

He explains what it was like when the bus pulled up for the tire and the crowd circled it again: “Many of them had just come home from church, good Christians who took their children with them. them to watch the Freedom Riders get killed. “

Then the flaming rag passed through the window. The seats caught fire.

As the flames spread, Thomas talks about making a choice: does he die from the smoke filling the bus or from the hands of the Klan?

Seeing the 1961 scene in AR today, Henderson began to ask himself the same questions: “What would I do?” Would I just succumb to the smoke or would I screw up the bus?

“You hear the shots and see the bullet holes in the glass,” he said. “You hear a hot rag being thrown at the bus, and then you turn around and find that there is this fire that keeps growing.”

And that’s what made it so moving.

“Just to understand that there will be a whole generation of people who might be their first entry into civil rights or who were the Freedom Riders. And they can share that experience with Hank. It was very emotional for me, that” was like the epitome of empathy and masterful storytelling. “

I hope you will also try this AR experience, which is part of our series called “Seven days of 1961“, which examines seven crucial protests that sparked a new era of civil rights. It’s painful but so important to our understanding of the hatred, struggle and sacrifice that brought us to this point in our history.

All you need is your smartphone. Here’s what to do:

  • Download the latest version of the USA TODAY app to your AR iOS or Android compatible device. (The app is free.)
  • Open your camera app on your phone and scan the appropriate QR code. Again, it’s free. (If you are already reading this on our app, go to it here.)
  • Point your phone on a flat surface and begin the journey.
QR codes to access the story in augmented reality "Seven Days of 1961: a dangerous journey on the road to freedom"

Throughout this project, our goal was to raise the voice of civil rights veterans themselves. Ask them to share their stories directly – their story in their words. This is exactly what they are doing in this AR experiment, as well as our seven part podcast, and in the stories and videos of these historic seven days.

We go back to January 11, when rioters gathered outside the dormitory of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, one of the University of Georgia’s first black students, who was still resisting integration seven years after the Brown v. Supreme Court Board of Education. .

We take you to the scene of black students arrested trying to eat at a white-only lunch counter on January 31st. Black students arrested for using the public library on March 27 and the Freedom Ride on May 14, which ended in a roadside fire.

Then, you’ll join over 100 students who on October 4 left Burglund High in Mississippi to protest racial injustice. Their work made it possible to rally the young people of the South. You’ll learn why hundreds of black and white college students from across the Northeast flocked to Baltimore and Annapolis on November 11 to host sit-ins at separate restaurants.

And you’ll understand the impact of December 15, when 1,500 black college students protested the arrest of 23 peers for picketing outside segregated stores the day before. Four years later, their Supreme Court case secured First Amendment rights to future protesters.

We published the the last of these stories this week. National reporter Deborah Berry conceived the project as a way to record the history of veterans before their departure.

At our press meeting on Wednesday, as she spoke about the response from those who shared their stories.

“They appreciate that USA TODAY even does that, that we respect the job they did, respect the fact that they didn’t always get the credit and the props they deserve. Some of them don’t. think they deserve it even now. “

Her voice was taken when she shared an email from friend and former reporter Wiley Hall that said, “Journalism is the first draft of history. You and your colleagues at USA TODAY show that good journalism can also do the rewrites, when the first couple of drafts go wrong. “

We hope you will take some time with this very special project, be it the stories, the videos, the podcasts, the graphic novel, the Augmented reality experience or watch one of the three online events where veterans told their stories in real time.

“We can play a role in correcting the story or improving the story or giving readers a better and clearer view of the story,” Berry said. “And not just from our point of view to say it, but from their point of view.”

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Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter here. Support journalism like this – subscribe to USA TODAY here.

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