It isn’t really Rosa Parks’ bus. She didn’t own the 1948 GM-built coach that she made famous on Thursday, December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama.
But it was aboard city bus #2857 that the black seamstress was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white male passenger. Her challenge of the “Jim Crow” segregation laws triggered a boycott of the Montgomery bus system that began 56 years ago today—on Monday, December 5, 1955—and lasted 381 days. The 42-year old activist’s defiance marked the start of the end of segregation for bus riders, and Mrs. Rosa Parks became known as “The First Lady of Civil Rights.”
In 2001 the Montgomery city bus that had made headlines surfaced in an internet auction. The vehicle had been exposed to the elements and was used for storage for some 30 years; it had greatly deteriorated and required extensive refurbishing. After careful research the experts from The Henry Ford, the suburban Detroit institution that includes the indoor Henry Ford Museum and outdoor Greenfield Village, determined that this was, indeed, THE “Rosa Parks Bus” and made the winning bid.
You can see “before” photos and read more about the process of researching the authenticity of coach #2857 at Rosa Parks Bus: The Story Behind the Bus.
The civil rights symbol on wheels, restored to its 1955 appearance, has a place of honor among other important pieces of American history in the exhibit, With Liberty & Justice for All.
This area of the museum covers the struggles for freedom in America beginning with the fight for independence through Civil War and slavery, equality for women, and the civil rights movement. Artifacts on display include a Revolutionary War camp bed used by George Washington and the upholstered chair that President Abraham Lincoln sat in at the Ford Theatre on April 14, 1865.
Examples of 20th century segregation include “colored” and “whites only” drinking fountains and a mural with “Instructions for a Lunch Counter Sit-In.”
That chilling display is just a few steps from coach #2857 and the very seat that a determined woman occupied on what is now known simply as the Rosa Parks Bus.
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