On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery city bus outside the department store where she worked as a seamstress.
A few blocks later, in front of what was then the Empire Theater, Mrs. Parks would be arrested for failing to relinquish her seat to a white male passenger in a historic stand that would lead to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the eventual desegregation of the city’s public bus system.
On Sunday, near the spot where Mrs. Parks boarded the bus and began that fateful journey, community leaders joined Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in unveiling a life-size, bronze statue of Mrs. Parks, commemorating the 64th anniversary of her arrest and marking Alabama second annual Rosa Parks Day celebration. In addition, four historic markers honoring the plaintiffs in the landmark Browder v. Gayle case were dedicated.
The statue, funded by the City of Montgomery, the Montgomery County Commission and the State of Alabama Department of Tourism, stands near Montgomery Plaza downtown. Montgomery County artist Clydetta Fulmer was commissioned to complete the work in conjunction with city and state bicentennial commemorations.
Dr. Felicia Bell, director of Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum and chair of the Rosa Parks Statue Oversight Committee, emceed Sunday’s ceremony and said she hopes the statue will help provide the full narrative the historic day of Dec. 1, 1955.
“I worked with a committee of wonderful scholars and artists, and together, we were able to work with the artist to develop what we think is a beautiful depiction of Mrs. Parks waiting to board that Cleveland Avenue bus on Dec. 1, 1955,” Dr. Bell said. “We hope that visitors to Montgomery will see the statue and get the full narrative of the story of Mrs. Parks and her arrest. The story begins here at Montgomery Plaza where she boarded the bus and it ends in front of the Rosa Parks Museum, which is the location where she is arrested. Now you will be able to follow that whole story from beginning to end through public art.”
Dr. Bell said the process took several months and much research, but she believes that it will provide visitors to the city the opportunity to learn more about Mrs. Parks beyond her arrest and involvement in the bus boycott.
“I hope that this statue will raise awareness of her protest and intrigue visitors to engage with her legacy,” Dr. Bell said. “In terms of what we do at the Rosa Parks Museum, we have educational programs throughout the year where we encourage our visitors to think critically about Mrs. Parks and her role in the social justice movement. We hope that visitors are motivated to learn more about her and more about how they can become engaged in creating better, more inclusive communities locally and throughout our nation.”
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said the new statue serves as a poignant reminder that the city was the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.
“To stand here today as Montgomery’s mayor where Mrs. Rosa Parks stood defiant against systemic injustice infecting our community and our country speaks to the magnitude of this moment and the progress achieved in our city,” Mayor Reed said. “This progress, coupled with the dawn of a new era of reconciliation and revitalization, underscores Montgomery’s status as the Birthplace of Civil Rights and a light unto the world.”
Montgomery County Commission Chairman said the statue was a long time coming.
“She is standing where she belongs at the heart of Montgomery where the historical Civil Rights Movement all started,” Dean said. “This is a great day for Montgomery County. The seeds she planted are ever continuing to be harvested. Because of Mrs. Parks’ courageous stance, I am able to hold the position I do as Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission. She paved the way for us, both minorities and women, we stand on her shoulders and we are forever grateful.”
With over 40 years of experience as an artist, Fulmer has completed more than 100 commissioned sculptures for commissioning entities, including the U.S. Botanic Garden, the City of Montgomery and Montgomery County. The Rosa Parks project required extensive research. Fulmer studied photographs, period shoes loaned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF) and even consulted Allena Curry Norman, a close friend to Parks and the hairdresser for Civil Rights luminaries like Coretta Scott King and Juanita Abernathy. Alabama’s Fairhope Foundry cast the statue.
The Montgomery Area Business Committee for the Arts Executive Director Ashley Ledbetter managed the project, in partnership with an oversight committee, led by Dr. Bell and comprising Alabama Statue University (ASU) Art Department Chair Nathaniel Allen and ASU Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Culture Archivist Dr. Howard Robinson. Additional community support came from Allena’s House of Beauty, ASF’s Director of Costume Production Jeffrey Todhunter and Dr. Kimberly Brown Pellum, who modeled for the sculpture. The statue has been enthusiastically approved by the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute in Detroit, and by the Montgomery Improvement Association.
Sunday’s statue unveiling was one of several activities held throughout the weekend and into Monday to celebrate the second commemoration of Rosa Parks Day in Alabama.
On Saturday morning, a unity breakfast was held at St. Paul AME Church, where Mrs. Parks attended church. The breakfast was followed by a unity march from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church to the Rosa Parks Museum. Led by scholars from Montgomery’s Valiant Cross Academy, who carried a banner commemorating Rosa Parks Day, the marchers sang as they processed down Dexter Avenue, past the location where Mrs. Parks boarded the bus, to the historic marker noting the location of her arrest on Montgomery Street in front of the museum.
The Rosa Parks Day Ecumenical Service was held Sunday afternoon at St. Paul AME.
On Monday, the Rosa Parks Museum commemorated the day with free admission to the museum.
In the museum’s auditorium, school children listened intently as Dr. Bell read from books about Mrs. Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Down the hall, in a nearby classroom, children laughed and passed markers and glue to each other as they made ornaments remembering the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the Charles Cahn Baum and Family Atrium, Duron Hale provided live music in honor of the day, while guests could also take advantage of the opportunity to register to vote.
This year’s Parks Day commemoration concluded Monday night with a celebration of the 64th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott at First Baptist Church.