The Radio Jock and Preacher Who Redeemed a Southern Town

Nestled on the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains, Anniston, Alabama, is an old industrial township that sits halfway between Atlanta and Birmingham. Under the yoke of Jim Crow laws, the city’s black and white residents lived almost completely segregated lives. Black residents resided in old homes and mill villages surrounding the factories on the west side of town, while affluent whites lived in new tract homes and manors in the hills on the east side.

On Mother’s Day 1961, the arrival of a Greyhound bus sparked a momentous change in the fight for equality. Aboard were seven black and white civil rights activists who called themselves Freedom Riders traveling from Washington , D.C ., to New Orleans to protest the segregation of intrastate bus facilities. Joining them were two journalists and five regular passengers, including an undercover Alabama State investigator tasked with gathering surveillance on the activists.

Waiting to greet them at the depot were a rabble of Ku Klux Klan members. Anniston was a hotbed of the Klan and our own member were considered particularly ruthless and unpredictable. Most hailed from Wellborn, a white working-class neighborhood of rusty pickups, outhouses, and tumbledown trailers on the leading edge of west Anniston where they often worked alongside blacks in the city’s factories, fabricating iron pipes. The pipes smelled in Anniston carried more of America’s sewage than those made anywhere else in the world, earning the town the moniker: World Soil Pipe Capital.

Though they often wore white hoods to conceal their identity, today the Klansmen were in church garb many having come straight-out from Mother’s Day mass. The crowd rapidly surrounded the bus, pounding it with tubes, chains, bats, and fists, screaming” Come on out nigg* rs! Come on out and incorporate Alabama, we dare you !”

Parked across the street from the bus depot was Tom Potts of WDNG radio station. He was broadcasting live from a white Dodge sedan, nicknamed the “Newsmobile,” usually reserved for local football match and an annual pageant. A journalism major at Emory, Potts emptied his savings to buy the fixer-upper station for $15,000. Initially operating out of a wooden shed attached to a radio tower, Potts managed to turn WDNG around by hiring a team of reporters and underlining strong local news coverage. With his good Southern pedigree, he’d maneuvered into east Anniston’s white elite, to intervene in the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, YMCA, and Anniston Country Club. The president of First National Bank became a tennis buddy and invited Potts to move the station into the building’s third floor, just around the corner from the Greyhound station. Though Potts thought the Freedom Riders were a bunch of Communist rabble rousers he felt the mob was getting out of hand.

” Come on out and integrate Alabama, we dare you !”

— Ku Klux Klan members

The mob looked coordinated, Potts find, in his naturally raspy voice. One teen was lying in front of the bus, perhaps to stop it from leaving. Potts, who’d opposed the Germans as a tail gunner on a B-1 7 bomber during World War II, could hear a group of Klansmen hollering “Sieg Heil,” the Nazi chant.

This can’t be Anniston, he guessed. He’d moved here two years earlier from Buffalo, New York, with his family feeling nostalgic for the South. With its rolling green hills, Anniston reminded him of Happy Creek, a former plantation in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where he grew up.

As Potts watched the situation escalate, the Freedom Riders–trained in nonviolent resistance tactics–kept their eyes fixed on the seatbacks in front of them. Earlier that morning in Atlanta, they’d met with civil right leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and asked if he’d join their ride. King refused telling,” I wouldn’t go into Alabama if I were you .” Now, many of them were beginning to understand his reluctance.

Sixteen minutes after the two attacks began, four Anniston police car arrived from their station a block away. One policeman started a friendly chat with the grand dragon of the Anniston Klan, Ken Adams, a charismatic 41 -year-old Wellborn resident with a single tuft of hair on his ruddy bald head. The policemen cleared a path for the bus to exit, and the Greyhound lurched forward out of the depot.

Klansmen operated for their vehicles and followed the bus, joining from every intersection. Potts merged into the line of 50 cars, determined to continue his reporting. Sunlight glistening off its aluminum sides, the bus sped west on Old Birmingham Highway and and as it reached the city limits, the police U-turned. Adams, in his souped-up pickup, and one of his Klansmen in a modified’ 32 Ford, pulled ahead of the bus. Starting a slow zigzag the bus crawled along the road at 30 mph.

” I hope to win the fight against integration legally. But I will shed every drop of blood I have before I assure Negro children in white schools !”

— Ken Adams, grand dragon of the Anniston KKK

Potts abruptly realized that the Klansman on the ground at the depot hadn’t been blocking the bus but had slashed the tires. Five miles outside Anniston, passengers on the bus heard the sickening hiss of the front left tire as it fizzled flat and jolted to a stop. The driver scurried off the bus abandoning the riders who then heard the frightening audio of the Klan’s car doorways slam shut outside.” I’m sorry for get you into this ,” a Freedom Rider whispered in a shaky voice to one of the regular passengers.

Potts parked his Newsmobile 30 yards behind the bus and left the engine operating to power his two-way radio. The mob was going crazy and trying to turn the bus over.

The undercover state researcher stood in the doors blocking the entrance to keep out the Klansmen. Meanwhile, behind the bus, a human broke the rear window with a crowbar and the other threw a can filled with flaming rags inside. At the front of the bus several Klansmen pushed the doors closed trapping passengers inside.” Let’s burn them nigg* rs ,” they yelled.” Let’s burn them nigg* rs alive !”

The bus filled with acrid smoking and the windows turned black. Three passengers stuck their heads through open windows gasping for air, as others pressed their faces to the glass.

A small crowd had assembled as a group of neighbours walked over to watch with their children. Three highway patrolmen had also pulled up, snickering in their cars.

Suddenly, the ga tank underneath the bus made a loud pop.” It’s going to blow ,” a Klansman hollered. The mob backed up and some passengers wiggled through open windows and dove out onto the road headfirst.

At the front of the bus the country researcher pried open the doors and led the rest of the passengers off the bus, aiming his handgun at the mob to offer covering.” You get back … or some of you are going to die !!” he wailed.

The Freedom Riders stumbled out and fell to their knees. As they gagged from smoke inhalation, Potts watched as one Klansman operated forward and whipped a black teen in the face with a long chain.

Moments after the last passenger had exited, the fuel tank exploded engulfing the bus in flames. An off-duty highway patrolman on a Mother’s Day drive with his wife spotted the flaming bus, sprinted out of his car and fired a single shooting in the air.” Move back !” he screamed, dispersing the mob.” You’ve had your fun .”

At WDNG the next day, Potts recorded his daily editorial, reflecting on the horror he’d witnessed.

” The real faulting ,” he read,” rests squarely on the shoulders of our citizens. You and me. It is our fault for letting a mob to take over every time a race problem develops …[ It] is period for the decent people in Anniston to stand up and be counted .”

The phone lines lit up with calls from angry listeners.

” The nigg* rs got what they deserved and should have got more .”

” The agitators were gentlemen stopping Communism and deserve medals .”

” The agitators should’ve burned the Freedom Riders’ luggage .”

Potts received dozens of death threats and lost many advertisers. As he walked through downtown, people he’d used to consider friends would cross the street when they find him coming.

Present-day Anniston has lots of boarded-up stores on its Victorian-style main street, driven out of business by superstores and online retailers, but it was once a prosperous industrial town.

Drained by the Choccolocco, Cane, and Cold Water Creeks, the land underneath Anniston is rich in an iron ore called hematite. Dark brown in colour with vibrant red streaks at the time of its discovery in the mid-1 800 s, it ran for several miles and was 15 feet thick.

During the Civil War, the Confederate government constructed an iron furnace on the site and forced slaves to melt the hematite into pig iron for weapons. After the war an odd couple of industrialists–a Confederate arms producer and a Union general–built a new iron furnace called the Woodstock Iron Company. They constructed a” company township” around it, naming it Annie’s Town after the Union general’s daughter-in-law, subsequently abbreviating the name to Anniston. A newspaperman nicknamed it” The Model City” because of its carefully planned grid of streets and the men seized on the nickname to advertise Anniston as a model of North-South reconciliation, industrial progress, and racial harmony.

In reality, the careful planning was meant to preserve a master-slave hierarchy. White elites lived along wide macadam streets, lined with evergreens, rose shrubs, and had the first electric lights in Alabama. In contrast, factory workers–including many former slaves–were assigned shoddy homes, schools, and churches near the factory. Though black and white workers labored side by side for 12 hours a day smelting iron into tubes, train wheels, kettles, and pans, emancipated blacks received the most dangerous assignments, handling the molten iron and its toxic byproducts.

In the springtime of 2016 I visited Anniston because I had a couple extra days on a trip to Atlanta and was curious about the town having read an article back in college about Potts. A white Southerner, Potts was a staunch conservative who had no qualms about segregation. But after witnessing the Klan’s horrific attack, his views on race evolved. His moral transformation reminded me of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s classic fiction To Kill a Mockingbird.

Potts passed away in 1999, but I met with his son, Tom Jr ., who runs a marketing firm on the ground floor of his dad’s old station which is still in operation. I hopped into his red Prius and we drove to the site of the firebombed Greyhound bus. The city has “was talkin about a” building a monument there for years but hasn’t been able to raise the funds.

As I get out of the car to take a few paintings it felt peaceful, with pine trees on all sides and green hills in the distance. But driving back to Anniston, within a quarter mile of the site of the bus attack, I spotted a ramshackle wood home with a Confederate flag in the window. Despite the tranquil decided, I realise, hatred and violence still linger here.

Adams and five of his Klansmen were tried by an all-white jury and released without having to serve a single day in prison for the Greyhound attack. Despite exerting power in Wellborn through a combination of dread and favor, Adams aspired to a larger stage. Emboldened by his acquittal, he ran for sheriff of Calhoun County, honing his stump speech at rallies in Wellborn.” I hope to win the fight against consolidation legally ,” he said.” But I will shed every drop-off of blood I have before I assure Negro children in white schools !”

Running against Adams was a black doctor named Gordon ” Doc ” Rodgers, a former NAACP leader. His promise, if elected, was to create a biracial committee of white and black community leaders to achieve civil rights reform in Anniston.

Rev. Nimrod Reynolds, clergyman of west Anniston’s Seventeenth Street Baptist Church–the spiritual centre of the city’s black community–campaigned hard for Rodgers, coordinating rallies and handing out flyers.

A black 33 -year-old with a deep baritone voice, Reynolds had grown up in rural Alabama during the Great Depression and watched his sharecropper father endure racist therapy by their bigoted landowner. Called to the cloth at a young age, Reynolds attended seminary in Atlanta before joining a community organization led by King. As clergyman of Seventeenth Street Baptist Church, Reynolds fulfilled often with King at west Anniston &# x27; s stately Blair Hotel to strategize reform. After the Klan’s attack on the Freedom Riders, Reynolds’ son recollected,” he became fanatic about the movement .”

Rogers lost the race in a landslide to the white incumbent, Sheriff Roy Snead, earning 16 percent of the vote while Adams garnered merely 13 percent. Undeterred, Reynolds and his friend Rev. Bob McClain, a 27 -year-old black rector of west Anniston’s Haven Chapel Methodist Church, set out to create the biracial group Rodgers foresaw. To recruit white members, they called Anniston’s white rectors. Only one agreed to meet with them, Phil Noble–a young Presbyterian fresh out of seminary who invited them across the ways to his church.

During their first session, Reynolds and McClain listed the many indignities suffered by Anniston’s black residents, and Noble became profoundly emotional.

” He prayed like I’d never heard a Southern white man pray and screamed like I’d never seen a Southern white man scream ,” recalled McClain , now 79.

The three formed an organization called the Ministerial Alliance and began holding secret meetings at one another’ churches to strategize integrating in Anniston.

On Mother’s Day 1963, the second anniversary of the Freedom Ride attack, Adams and one of his Klansmen set out on a night ride, firing into two black homes and a black church. The area was already on edge due to the National Guard being dispatched by President John F. Kennedy to defend King and his protesters facing Police Commissioner Bull Connor’s fire hoses in nearby Birmingham. Potts designated his news director, Joe Foster, to cover the shootings.” If this[ shooting] turns out to be organized ,” one of the homeowners told Foster,” and it happens again, the white people won’t like it .”

That evening at the community meeting Reynolds hosted every Sunday at his church many attendees brought firearms and knives. Amassing inside the dark stone church which resembled a palace, they called for reprisal against Anniston’s white community for doing nothing to stop the Klan.

To prevent a riot Anniston’s mayor, Claude Dear, called Reynolds and promised the city would create a biracial Human Relation Council( HRC) with the authority to integrate Anniston. When members of the council gratified three days later to sign the HRC into statute, Adams and a group of his Klansmen crashed into the committee room and stood in the back, watching.

In the springtime of 1963, the HRC’s five white and four black members–which included Revs. Reynolds, McClain, and Noble–began the difficult and dangerous process of integrating Anniston.

President Kennedy penned a letter commending the creation of the HRC. “[ Your action] is a sensible one ,” he wrote” and one that should serve as a guide and model for other communities throughout the United States .”

After removing the shower partitions in the factories, then the white and colored signs over drinking fountain and restrooms, the HRC undertook its first major initiative: integrating the town’s all-white Carnegie Library. Revs. Reynolds and McClain volunteered to be the first to get library cards and check out volumes, keeping the scheme a secret from everyone–even their spouses.

On their scheduled date, Sept. 15 after their Sunday services, the men received news that a stack of dynamite had exploded at 16 th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four little girls. Overcome with anguish, Reynolds drove to McClain’s church, where they paused to say a prayer at the altar for Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair before proceeding to the library.

Unlike Anniston’s dilapidated black library, Carnegie had a grassy lawn, clean red bricks, and Corinthian columns. Both Reynolds and McClain held “masters degrees” but neither had ever been able to set foot inside the building. Approaching the library entrance, the two evangelists spotted a few white humen in denim persist on the front steps and no policemen around. As they passed the men, a mob of 50 Klansmen charged from around the back. Carrying sticks, chains, knives, and blackjacks they attacked the two evangelists. Several pummeled McClain with sticks while others whipped Reynolds in the face with a chain and stabbed him in the buttocks.

McClain locked his arm around Reynolds, operated with him back to Reynolds’ Pontiac, and helped him inside. With autoes parked in front and behind them, the preachers sat in breathless terror–trapped–as Klansmen started shaking the car from side to side, trying to tip it over. Then, a gunshot ripped through the driver’s side window, whistling behind McClain’s neck, landing in his headrest.

” We have to get out of here !” McClain hollered.

McClain pulled Reynolds, who was bleeding, across from the passenger side and out of the car as the Klan resumed pummeling them with sticks. Then, McClain spotted an old black lady who’d been driving by and stopped in the mob’s midst.

” Get in !” she yelled.

McClain hoisted Reynolds into the backseat and climbed in after him as the driver tore away down 10 th Street. After receiving light treatment in the black ward of Anniston Memorial Hospital they were sent home for anxiety of reprisal by the Klan.

That evening, President Kennedy called the home of white HRC member Miller Sproul and offered to deploy soldiers into Anniston if needed, as federal troops were on standby at Fort McClellan in response to the Birmingham bombing. Sproul, who was gathered with Mayor Dear, and library board chair Charles Doster knew troops in the street would tarnish Anniston’s reputation which was already sullied by the Freedom Rider assault. They asked Kennedy for 48 hours to get a handle on the situation.

Four white men were charged with” assault with intent to murder” for the attack on Reynolds and McClain, but none were convicted.

The first privately owned businesses to integrate in east Anniston were three department stores–Kress, Roses, and Silvers. Three weeks after integrating its lunch counter, a tear gas grenade exploded inside Roses sending customers and employees stumbling into the street, encompassing their weeping eyes.

” The moron who did this is a bad person ,” Potts said in his radio response to the attack.” He is of no earthly good to himself or anyone else. In his own warped way, he is helping undo much of the good so many people have been working for .”

Around 9 p. m. Potts’ home telephone rang and a caller demanded he redact his statement on the attack.” You’ve got a new business, a young family ,” the caller told.” We wouldn’t want anything to happen to them .”

Potts refused and the next day on air recounted the conversation verbatim.

” The real fault rests squarely on the shoulders of our citizens. You and me. It is our fault for letting a rabble to take over every time a race problem starts …[ It] is hour for the decent people in Anniston to stand up and be counted .”

— Tom Potts of WDNG radio

Four nights afterward, someone hurled two sticks of dynamite at his radio antenna shed. No one was inside but the blast snapped an electrical line sending the station darknes. Potts ordered power crews to the site immediately and WDNG was back up and running within the hour.

Meanwhile, consolidation proceeded in Anniston, one facility at a time.” Our aim ,” Noble recollected,” was to go fast enough that the black community would continue to cooperate and slow enough that the white community would accept it .”

McClain said he found the strategy “infuriating,” adding,” but we had to compromise. And then we had to defend those compromises to the black community .”

In response to a number of east Anniston shops refusing to hire black workers, Reynolds–left with a permanent limp from his stab wounds–organized daily pickets. Adams held counterprotests to intimidate the black activists, screaming to advocates,” The Negroes are on the marching !”

The picketing lasted 13 weeks and resulted in hard-fought victory–three east Anniston stores agreeing to hire black workers.

On a muggy Sunday evening in 1963, a big crowd of black residents from all over the district packed into Reynolds’ Sunday community meeting be interested to hear Dr. King preach. Now a celebrity, he electrified crowds across the country with his oratory skills.

After the gospel choir’s rousing closing hymn, Reynolds and King left for Birmingham to speak at a rally of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference( SCLC ). Along with Dr. King, Reynolds was joined by King’s assistant Bernard Lee, SCLC Vice President Ralph Abernathy, and Rev. McClain.

Spirits were high and scripture poems were flying.” Picture five black evangelists on a Sunday night ,” McClain told me.

As they headed west on Old Birmingham Highway, the engine began to coughing. Rushing out of town, Reynolds forgot to fill up the tank and the car lost power.

” Although the possibility of dying for the movement had long shadowed each man’s consciousness, it now loomed as an imminent likelihood .”

Coasting to the shoulder, Reynolds seemed to his right and ensure a gas station. It was owned by Adams who had a roadside sign that read” We Don’t Serve Gas to Nigg* rs .” Adams owned four gas stations situated like fencing posts at the corners of Anniston. He had been arrested twice for assaulting wayward black motorists who stopped, shooting and injuring one, and handgun whipping the other.

” We’re out of gas !” Reynolds said in a panic.

It was after 10 p.m. Near the pumps, a group of about 10 young white men were socializing and drinking beers, a common sight at gas stations after dark in the South.

Reynolds looked into the well-lit service station and insured Adams standing behind the counter. In the backseat, Abernathy leaned over to King.

“Martin,” he said in his slow drawl,” why don’t you go and convince Mr. Adams to sell us some gas ?”

” Ralph, why don’t you go ?” King joked.

The group laughed and then fell quiet. Here, they knew on this dark road in Alabama, the latter are utterly vulnerable. Although the possibility of dying for the movement had long shadowed each man’s consciousness, it now loomed as an imminent likelihood.

After a brief silence, King stepped out of the car as Reynolds watched in terror. The cluster of young white men seemed confused and amazed that a black human would have the guts to walk over before acknowledging who he was. The men mobbed around King like a pack of jackals, snarling insults as he continued in a straight line and entered the brightly lighted service station.

Reynolds couldn’t hear the conversation between King and Adams but watched their profiles. King did most of the talking, gesturing with his hands. Here were two leaders of their motions, bartering for a tank of gasoline and five human lives.

After 10 minutes, Adams strolled out of the station with King behind him. Adams pointed to one of his employees.” Give these nigg* r preachers some gas and let them get the hell out of here ,” he barked.

King climbed into the Pontiac as Adams glared at the group and his employees filled up their tank, without asking for pay.

When Reynolds heard the gas lid click closed he pulled forward slowly and then sped off into the night. Not a single word was spoken the rest of the drive to Birmingham. Reynolds never found out what King said to Adams, or Adams to King.

On a scorching night in Anniston in July 1965, a mob of 110 gathered for a “White Man’s Rally” on the steps of Calhoun County’s courthouse. The event was hosted by the National States Rights Party, which had grown out of the domestic Nazi movement of the 1930 s. The opening speaker was Adams, who moonlighted as treasurer of the party’s local chapter.

In the crowd stood a young employee of Adams’ gas station, Damon Strange whom Adams had told he needed to prove himself become members of the Klan.

After the rally let on at 11 p.m ., Strange and two of his friends piled into a dull yellow’ 58 Chevy and drove to a Texaco station in west Anniston, where they spotted three black ironworkers gassing up their Pontiac. The driver complained that his feet were hurting so his friend Willie Brewster, who’d only clocked out at Anniston Pipe Company, be submitted to take the wheel. Strange and his friends followed the car onto Old Birmingham Highway. A quarter-mile from the place of the Freedom Ride attack, Strange leaned out of the Chevy’s window and fired his shotgun three times through the car’s rear window. The second slug made Brewster in the back of the neck, severing his spine. The parent of three been killed in the hospital two days later.

Potts joined roughly 250 area residents in pledging a reward for datum. One of Strange’s friends, eager to collect it, came forward with proof. A warrant went out for his arrest and Adams personally delivered Strange to the jailhouse.

WDNG &# x27; s coverage of Strange’s trial was syndicated by United Press International( UPI ), and reached listeners nationwide. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover received updates on the trial be learned from WDNG newscasts. In the event of a not-guilty verdict, Reynolds and King were preparing for a massive procession in front of the courthouse.

After a five-day trial, the all-white jury saw Strange guilty of second-degree assassination. The verdict was touted as a historic one, the first conviction of a white person for killing a black person in Alabama history. Strange was sentenced to ten years in prison but one of his accomplices was exonerated, and the other was never tried.

Across the ways 500 mourners packed into tiny Kelly Springs Baptist Church for Brewster’s funeral. Another hundred stood softly outside in a light drizzle under oak trees. Brewster’s wife arrived directly from the hospital, having suffered a miscarriage which her physician attributed to the long hours spent on her feet and the shock of losing her husband. Friends placed potted plants on the altar beside Brewster’s casket to honor his love of horticulture.

By September 1965, as the crisp red foliages of Anniston’s water oaks began to fall, eight black students integrated Wellborn High School.

The teenagers suffered beatings by their white classmates and unfair treatment by the principal. On one occasion, the principal lined up the black students in the hallway and barked” You are at a white folks’ school. You’re going to have to stop talking like a nigg* r !”

The following years brought little change. On Oct. 15, 1971, a black teen was expelled for slapping the principal’s hand after he pointed it in his face. A popular black evangelist named John Nettles resulted a week of youth demoes demanding that the principal resign, the student be readmitted, and the school forbid the brandish of Confederate flags and playing of “Dixie” at football games.

In retaliation, night riders fired twenty one bullets into Nettles’ home, narrowly missing his wife. Minutes afterwards, Rev. Reynolds’ telephone resound.” We just got one of those nigg* r evangelists and we’re on the way to your house ,” said the caller.

” The police are not concerned that someone shot into my home but that the blacks keep their place! Hell man, black folks ain’t scared anymore !”

— Rev. John Nettles

Reynolds’ spouse hurried their two children into the bathroom–the only room without windows–and lay on top of them next to the bathtub.

Reynolds called two of his deacons who rushed over with rifles, and stood guard in front of his house. Word spread to black area residents that the Klan was coming after their reverends. That night, west Anniston erupted in riots. Young black men armed with guns, at-bats, and knives crossed the railroad tracks into east Anniston, breaking windows and shooting into white homes.

Inside Reynolds’ packed Sunday night meeting, Nettles addressed the furious mob.” The police are not concerned that someone shot into my home but that the blacks keep their place !” he hollered.” Hell man, black folks ain’t scared anymore !”

Potts opened WDNG to callers 24/7 to give people a place to vent as listeners flooded the radio wave and fires burned across the city.

The Chamber of Commerce called an emergency gratifying to address the riots but there was one obvious problem: everyone there was white. Previously, in brainstorming how to win an” All American City Award “– bestowed by the National Civic League on communities that” address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents “– the Chamber had tossed around the idea of creating a new biracial citizens group to replace the HRC, which had outlived its purpose after incorporating the town. With Anniston erupting in riots, the idea now seemed necessary.

One businessman suggested that Potts result the new committee and he agreed. They called it the Committee on Unified Leadership, or COUL for short. Meetings were held at the YMCA between Anniston’s east and west aims, and is accessible to all local residents to present an issue or grievance. Over period, meetings grew to 200 people every week, ranging from city leaders to sanitation workers. Invited to” arrive as you are ,” attendees wore construction belts, business suits, and overalls.

Issues ranged in scope from neighborhood-specific to community-wide and despite contentious moments, Potts proved a calming presence.” He had that kind of power, he had that kind of voice ,” Potts’ secretary Maudine Holloway remembers.

Many of COUL’s proposed reforms were sore subjects in Anniston’s white community After one meeting, Potts came home collapsed on the sofa, and told his wife:” Betty, COUL is the one single hardest thing I’ve ever done .” Still, he persisted.

Potts helped install water, sewage, and electrical lines in west Anniston, recruit black applicants to the police department, and battled discriminatory hiring practices.

Reynolds served as vice president of COUL and became good friends with Potts over the years, bound by a reciprocal respect and commitment to bettering their township.

Rev. Reynolds pastored Seventeenth Street Baptist Church for half a century. By old age he was a poor man, having given away most of his money to the needy.” Hundreds of people have told me how he helped them get a chore, or helped them get a home ,” told Rev. Stephen Richardson, who took over as rector of the church. After Reynolds’ death in 2013, Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers honored him with a tribute on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives, praising his” legacy of civic engagement” and contributions to the civil rights movement.

Many historians point to Anniston as better integration success narrative because it avoided much of the racial violence that engulfed neighboring cities. They credit Anniston’s progressive media, liberal city leaders, and biracial committees such as the HRC and COUL as driving factors.

But work remains to be done. No different than many cities across America, Anniston’s black residents–still concentrated in its dilapidated west end–have higher rates of poverty and unemployment than white residents, and unequal representation in city government and the police department.

Holloway, in her seventies, runs a community advocacy organization out of an old, dimly lighted west Anniston church. The phone in her cluttered office rings constantly with calls from black area residents in need of assist.

” I &# x27; m hoping to retire soon ,” she told me in a tired voice.” With the very best Lord’s help, I &# x27; ll find a replacement .”

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