Anniston is the site of a Freedom Rider bus burning–a part of history that Annistonites would rather forget. The little town had a KKK Klavern that scared the ones in Birmingham with its extreme violence, and has lost a lot of its population to brain drain.
When we stood in the alley where an 18-year-old Klansman laid down in front of the bus to prevent it from leaving, allowing the rest of the Klansmen to slash its tires. Decades later, fear lays thick in that alley. I leaned on one of the brick walls and stared at the brand-new commemorative mural of the bus on the opposite wall, then walked to the restaurant quickly.
We had dinner with various locals involved in the Civil Rights revival of Anniston. Our dinner partner, Richard Couch, was a lovely man. He is a criminal defense lawyer and the son of a Klansman involved in the Anniston bus burning.
Mr. Couch looked and talked like your typical Southern gentleman, which automatically made me think he was prejudiced. Apparently, I was the prejudiced one, because my assumptions could not be further from the truth. A proponent of organic co-ops and an Alan Watts fan, he spent his life trying to undo his father’s legacy.
I can’t imagine always being interrogated about what a terrible person my father was. Mr. Couch obviously wrestled with the love one is supposed to bear towards one’s relatives and his hate for his father’s deplorable actions. They have been estranged since his parents’ divorce. Our students suggested he write his father a letter to work through his feelings, but I’ve been down this road myself–not to a very successful end. My letter ended up an angry, incoherent rant. I didn’t feel it helped anyone in any way.
And so the deep currents go further underground until they dry up.