The woman who refused to budge on the bus – and made history

The statue of Rosa Parks in the Rosa Parks museum, Troy University, Montgomery, Alabama.

This is the fourteenth of my posts based on a recent tour of the eastern half of the USA. I visited a number of sites relevant to African American history. To mark Black History Month, I am relating some of the things I saw, in the order I saw them.

I’ve wanted to visit the Rosa Parks museum for years. It has been very high on my bucket list. It was a strange desire. The Rosa Parks museum is in Montgomery, Alabama, which is not one of the easiest places to places to get to in the States. (I had to go on a Greyhound bus from Atlanta, Georgia – which turned out to be a very peaceful and calm experience!) And I would not say that I am an expert on the history of Rosa Parks. I had barely read her Wikipedia write-up before I planned a trip to Montgomery. It was just that I respected her as someone who did something quite awesome – she simply, and with quiet dignity, refused to give up her bus seat to a white person and, as a result, sparked a movement that led eventually to the end of racial segregation in the USA and a step-function advancement in civil rights for Black people there.

Montgomery, Alabama is a wonderful place. Compared to, say, Boston, Masschusetts, it is not so wealthy. But it is very warm with high humidity. The buildings are beautiful and I received a wonderful welcome all round.

The Rosa Parks museum is in the centre of the city, being part of Troy University. It is virtually on the spot where the bus stood when Ms Parks refused to budge. There is a fantastic children’s section which must wow school children who visit – it takes the shape of a bus, which you sit on. The bus turns into a time machine which takes you through the history of Africans in America.

The museum gives a detailed history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56. This was an exceptional example of non-violent protest where African Americans voted with their feet and boycotted the city’s bus system for a year. They had to either walk or use a system of car sharing to get to work. Their demand was not an end to racial segregation on buses, but simply for African Americans to be treated with respect on buses. In the end, the boycott exceeded its aims.

As its centrepiece, the museum has a bus. You stand at the side of the bus and look through the windows to see actors re-enacting the actual event of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat.

It should be noted that, nine months before the Rosa Parks incident, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, and was arrested. So Claudette Colvin, a school-going teenager at the time, was very much a pioneer who ought to receive more recognition. For some reason, perhaps because she was the secretary of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and perhaps because of the preparatory actions of Colvin and the women who came before her, Rosa Parks’ refusal and arrest caught the zeitgeist at the right moment. Immediately after her arrest, activists printed a flyer on a duplicator (three on a page that were then guillotined) and then distributed them overnight. This then brought a huge number of people to a public meeting which started the boycott. As a note of detail, the flyer incorrectly called Claudette Colvin “Claudette Colbert” (the latter being the name of a famous film star at the time).

The museum also had an art exhibition on lynching, which was very moving. In fact, as I took a selfie with the Rosa Parks statue, I found it very difficult to muster a smile after seeing that exhibition.

To end on a bright note, here’s the wonderful heart-warming moment when President Bill Clinton gave a “shout out” to Rosa Parks at the 1999 State of the Union address in the US Congress. Please click on the arrow to see it:

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in LDVUSA.


  • Thank you for this article.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Oct '17 - 1:24am

    A terrific reminder of a great lady , and the truly great power of peaceful protest.

    I have never understood the glamour of revolutionaries like Castro, or the violence of the IRA and others in that situation, Rosa Parks achieved more , by simply not getting up from her seat.

    Non violence is not always the way, but when the people concerned have utilised it on a smaller scale in local areas , it works better than anything else.

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