Sacred Place becomes setting to capture untold stories of Black history

West Anniston Gateway is a recently opened Sacred Place in Northeast Alabama; it sits at the entrance to West 15th Street in the City of Anniston, an area that in 1991 was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Firesoul and long-time City Manager, Steven Folks, recently spoke with us about the deep cultural significance of this Sacred Place and the role it’s playing in capturing some of the City’s more painful past — before it’s too late.

Folks personally remembers arriving in Anniston as a young man. It was on 15th Street that he would go for a haircut, a bite to eat, to shop — “to feel comfortable”. At that time, others, including Alabama State Representative Dr. Barbara Boyd; retired teacher and principal, Mrs. Mattie M. Mille; and Mr. Nathaniel Davis, one of the City’s first Black mail carriers; had already been going there for decades.

While Anniston had 15th Street, Folks is quick to point out that most American cities at that time had their own City within a City — segregated areas where many Black-owned establishments catering to a Black clientele thrived. During the 1940s and 1950, 15th Street was the economic and social hub of Aniston’s Black community.

Folks recently embarked on an effort to record untold stories of Anniston’s history from the people who lived it. Stories of Black experiences and history — American history, as Folks emphasizes. The West Anniston Gateway Sacred Place is where Folks recently held a public story-telling event — captured on video. A cluster of rocking chairs were temporarily brought into the park, a nod to how stories like these were once passed down on front porches, said Folks.

During the 1960s, Anniston was the site of multiple, now historical, Civil Rights events. This was a destination and a stopping point for civil rights leaders and Freedom Riders, some of whom, in 1961, were dragged off of their bus and beaten by a white mob just outside of town. Martin Luther King spoke not once, but twice, at the 17th Street Baptist Church.

While historians have documented headlines like Dr. King’s presence in Anniston and the Freedom Riders’ work to integrate interstate travel, equally important are the individual stories like those of Mr. Folks. These provide the detail, nuance and context to help us understand what it was like to live through that era.

“This is one more way to keep young people tied in with the Black community’s rich history,” said Folks.

The opportunity to capture these stories narrows with each passing day, which is why Mr. Folks is driven by a sense of urgency. His plans are for the recently-captured recordings to be incorporated into a permanent audio installation in the Sacred Place so that visitors can hear and know what came before.

“Our intent is for this Sacred Place to play a role moving forward in healing, in ensuring that these experiences are not forgotten by future generations; that they are honored,” said Folks.

This is often a role of Sacred Places. “Time and again we have witnessed how these spaces can draw together and help connect people with each other and nature,” said Nature Sacred CEO Alden Stoner.

Once Folks’ videos are ready for release, we will be helping share these collected stories here.

Learn more about this Sacred Place

Read local media coverage about the opening of the West Anniston Gateway Sacred Place