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The Rosa Parks Bus

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

In June of 2017, we traveled to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and one of the items that we saw on display there was the original, authenticated bus that Rosa Parks one on when she made her stand for civil rights.

The bus, now fully restored, is more than just a vehicle. It is a symbol of human rights and a reminder of time where all men are truly NOT created equal. We are lucky that the museum found this treasure and restore it, before it was lost for future generations (read the restoration story below). You can visit the bus yourself at the Henry Ford Museum located at ​20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, MI 48124‑5029.

Who was Rosa Parks?

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States Congress has called her "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks rejected bus driver James F. Blake's order to relinquish her seat in the "colored section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation, but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) believed that she was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws. Parks' prominence in the community and her willingness to become a controversial figure inspired the black community to boycott the Montgomery buses for over a year, the first major direct action campaign of the post-war civil rights movement. Her case became bogged down in the state courts, but the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle succeeded in November 1956.

Parks' act of defiance and the Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and Martin Luther King, Jr., a new minister in Montgomery who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement and went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. (wikipedia)

How the bus got to the Henry Ford Museum

The bus identification number was not recorded in any official documents when Rosa Parks was arrested, so years later, many museums and organizations were searching for the bus, but no one was quite sure which bus it was. When bus #2857 was retired in the early 1970s, Roy H. Summerford of Montgomery bought it. At the time, company employees told him that it was the Rosa Parks bus. Summerford and his descendants kept the bus in a field and used it to store lumber and tools. When Summerford passed away, the bus became the property of his daughter and son-in-law, Vivian and Donnie Williams. Although the Williamses knew that this had been identified as the Rosa Parks bus, they had no documents to prove it.

Robert Lifson, President of Mastronet, an Internet auction house, decided he wanted to auction off the bus for Mr. and Mrs. Williams. He began a search for documents authenticating the bus—and he found one.

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.

In September of 2001, an article in the Wall Street Journal announced that the Rosa Parks bus would be auctioned online in October. The museum caught this article and pursued the acquisition. After obtaining the bus, the documentation that proves this is the correct bus, and Montgomery City Bus Lines driver's uniform for $492,000, another $300,000 went into the renovations of the bus to restore it back to the way it looked in 1955.

The bus now stands as a testament to want occurred and to help teach future generations, as to the turmoil that faced this nation. We were amazed to round the corner in the museum and actually see the bus there, and are really glad that we can now share it with you.

Source: The Henry Ford Museum - Rosa Parks Bus

As you know, we normally have a lot more pictures associated with our blog posts, but with this one, we only had a few. At the time we were there, a tour was taking place and we did not get a chance to go back around to that side of the museum again before we left to get more photographs. Maybe we will next time.

If you have been to the museum in the past and saw this wonderful historical artifact, or would like to see it in the future, please let us know in the comments below.

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