By Frederick H. Lowe, BlackmansStreet.Today
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed unveil statue of Rosa Parks; and Aurelia Browder poses with statue of Rosa Parks
Sunday, December 1 was Rosa Parks Day in Montgomery, Alabama.
The city of Montgomery and Alabama, where the capitol is based, unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Parks who sparked the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, one of the seminal events in civil rights history. The boycott, started by black women, broke the back of segregation on Montgomery’s city buses, which were owned by a Chicago company. Parks, a seamstress and an early civil rights activist involved the case of the Scottsboro Boys, refused to give up her seat to a white man and move to back of the back of the bus where seats and standing room were set aside for blacks as was the law at the time. Parks said in a number of interviews she was angry about what happened to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago teenager, who was spending the summer in Money, Mississippi, when two white men beat him to death on August 24, 1955, for offending a white woman. Decades later, the woman, Carolyn Bryant, admitted she lied about the circumstances that led to Till’s brutal murder.
The City of Montgomery dedicated a statue of Parks on Montgomery Plaza near the stop where she caught the bus that would drive her into history and unemployment. She caught the bus on November 26, 1955 and the boycott began on December 1.
“To stand here today as Montgomery’s mayor where Mrs. Rosa Park stood defiant against systemic injustice infecting our community speaks to the magnitude of this moment and the progress achieved in our city,” said Steven Reed, Montgomery’s first black mayor. Montgomery had been the capital of the Confederacy for about a year during the Civil War.
Montgomery County artist Clydetta Fulmer built the statue, which also contains four historic markers honoring the plaintiffs in the landmark Browder v. Gayle case. A three-judge federal panel ruled on June 5, 1956, that the enforced segregation of black and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery violated the Constitution and laws of the United States. Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith and Jeanette Reese were plaintiffs in the case. Freddie Gray, Alabama’s only black attorney at the time, filed the lawsuit. The statue doesn’t honor E.D. Nixon, a Pullman Porter and president of the local chapter of the NAACP, who bailed Parks out of jail. The statue also doesn’t honor Jo Anne Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State College, now Alabama State University, who came up with the idea of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, according to the book “The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People Who Broke the Back of Jim Crow,” by Donnie Williams and Wayne Greenhaw. The boycott was supposed to last one day, but it was so successful, it continued for nearly 400 days. The boycott put Parks and a 25-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. into the history books. King later led the boycott.
After the boycott, no one would hire Parks or her husband, Raymond, a barber, who also had been active in the Scottsboro Boys case. The couple moved to Detroit, and Michigan Congressman John Conyers gave her a job.
Parks died October 24, 2005. She was 92.