Janie Forsyth and Hank Thomas
PAGE 6
Throughout the movement, there were southerners—both black and white—who risked their lives to help the Freedom Riders. One of them was a brave seventh grader named Janie Forsyth.

Janie was just 12 years old when the Freedom Riders' bus was firebombed in front of her family's Alabama grocery store. "The door burst open, and people just spilled out into the yard. They were practically tripping over each other because they were so sick," Janie recounts in the documentary Freedom Riders. "It was horrible. It was like a scene from hell. It was the worst suffering I'd ever heard."

A member of the mob hit Hank over the head with a baseball bat, nearly knocking him unconscious, while other Freedom Riders lay on the ground begging for water. Janie, a white girl raised in the segregated South, couldn't take it. "It got to the point where, if they had called them names, I would have done nothing," Janie says. "But it got to the point where they were threatening their lives. They were visiting violence on them. They got past my personal ability to withstand it without trying to do something."

That day, Janie defied the Klan. She says she picked out a woman, washed her face, held her and gave her a glass of water to drink. Then, she picked out someone else to help. Hank was one of those people.

Watch Hank and Janie's emotional reunion Watch  

After that day, Janie says she awaited retaliation from the Klan. "I knew it was not a safe thing to defy the Ku Klux Klan," she says. "Eventually, I had heard that they had one of their meetings. ... They had discussed what to do about Richard Forsyth's little girl, Janie. And I found out that in that meeting, some of them had decided to give me a pass because I was young and obviously didn't know what I was doing. [They said] I was 'weak-minded.'"

Hank says he often wondered what happened to the little girl who brought him water. "I thought about her and her bravery and what happened to her afterwards, so when I saw her again today, of all of the ugliness and all of the evils that took place on Anniston that day, this was the little angel," he says. "And I will never, ever forget her."
FROM: Oprah Honors American Heroes: The Freedom Riders Reunite 50 Years Later
Published on May 04, 2011
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