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Sitting on Rosa Parks’ Seat

Rosa Parks

“Which seat did Rosa Parks sit on?” I asked the museum curator.

“The one you’re sitting on,” he said.

This was back in August when I took the kids to visit Henry Ford Museum. The path to the bus, which is located in the “With Justice and Liberty for All” exhibit, subjects patrons to various unnerving items such as a large costume of the KKK and a drinking fountain from the 50’s labeled “colored.”

It is in that era that a quiet, dignified, Alabama seamstress did something that no one had done before. She refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger. By simply saying “no,” she started a movement.

“Segregation in the United States has been around forever,” said the curator. “In the north it wasn’t as obvious or blatant as in the south.”

He explained that all “colors” were discriminated against, including Indians, Asians, Native Americans, and dark colored Arabs. They could not sit in the front of the bus for any reason. A white person would not sit next to a colored person, nor stand in the bus. Bus drivers were always white and if they wished they could carry guns to enforce the laws.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks gets into the bus. The bus driver tells her to move to the back – three times – or he’ll call the police.

“For Rosa Parks the police wasn’t as worrisome as the KKK,” said the curator. “She knew that the KKK would find out what she did and would not be happy with it.”

Yet she refused to move. Four days later she was fined a $15 fee for disturbing the peace and $10 for court costs. She appealed her conviction. Her action caused a boycott. Colored people refused to ride the buses. Some quit their jobs rather than ride the bus. This amounted to some 90 percent of the riders. Eventually segregation on buses in Alabama became illegal, causing a domino effect in the rest of the country.

According to the curator, the Rosa Parks bus continued to carry passengers for a long time after this incident and then sold to a farmer. He used it to store lumber, put live stock in it, even for target practice. His daughter inherited the farm with the bus. She contacted an auctioneer one day to put it on eBay. The Smithsonian, Henry Ford and a third party bid for it. Henry Ford evidently won. Seventy-five percent of the bus is its original material.

Rosa Park’s action caused the KKK to put a lot of pressure on her and her husband, including death threats, so after a few years, she moved to Detroit. She died in October 2005, following the 50th year anniversary of the bus.

At the end of his talk, he had us listen to an audio of Rosa Parks expressing in an interview why she’d took a stand that day. She said, “The time had come where I was pushed as far as I could. I had to know my rights as a human being.”

Sixty years ago, when Rosa Parks finally stood up for her rights as a human being, she ignited others to realize their worthiness too. It’s not easy to be courageous, to do what’s right, to not shrug off what your heart tells you to do. But when you do it, with quietness and dignity, it’s like magic.