Saving the “Rosa Parks” bus

Museums often showcase artifacts that represent significant technological advances as symbols of our scientific progress. Cultural innovation, however, is more difficult to convey. In our quest to spotlight social change, curators at The Henry Ford search for objects that embody some of America’s most compelling cultural movements.

On December 1, 1955, African-American seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested for failing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white man, breaking existing segregation laws. Many believe this act sparked the Civil Rights movement. When the opportunity arose, our staff recognized that the Rosa Parks bus would be an extraordinary addition to the museum—though it would be a long journey to acquire and restore it…

Montgomery bus station manager Charles H. Cummings had maintained a scrapbook of newspaper articles during the 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott. Next to articles describing the arrest of Rosa Parks, he wrote “#2857” and “Blake/#2857.” James Blake was the bus driver who had Rosa Parks arrested. The son and wife of Mr. Cummings, now deceased, confirm that he jotted down the bus number because he felt the events were so important.

Often, as in this case, historical truth is not officially recorded, but is passed along in private memoirs and oral tradition.

Never forget. Never relent!

4 thoughts on “Saving the “Rosa Parks” bus

  1. Santayana says:

    “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985

  2. p/s says:

    “Saving the Rosa Parks Bus” National Bus Trader / September, 2002
    “…National City Lines placed an order for new TDH3610 buses with General Motors in 1948. The bus carrying serial numberTDH3610-1132 was given National City Lines fleet number 2857 and originally assigned to Terre Haute, Indiana. At that time Terre Haute City Lines was the only National City Lines property in Indiana and operated 79.4 miles of route and 44 buses.
    Bus 2857 apparently served unremarkably in Terre Haute for six years before being transferred to Montgomery, Alabama in1954. Montgomery City Lines had been acquired from Alabama Power Company and was one of only two National City Lines properties in Alabama. At this time it operated 118.8 route miles and 67 buses.The incident which brought fame to bus 2857 took place on December 1, 1955 when Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, a 42-year-old black woman on her way home from work,was asked by the bus driver to give up her seat to a white male passenger. Rosa Parks refused.
    While the immediate penalty was a $10 fine for violating a Montgomery city ordinance, this action of Rosa Parks has subsequently been credited with being the spark for major social change. Four days later, local civil rights activists initiated a boycott of Montgomery buses which lasted 381 days. A young minister leading the protest, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., received national recognition. A year later, in December of 1956, the case reached the Supreme Court which ruled that the segregation law was unconstitutional. Rosa Parks has since been known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

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