As the State of Alabama celebrated the inaugural Rosa Parks Day on Saturday, many leaders agreed that while the woman known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” would likely be pleased with progress that has been made, they admitted there is work to be done.
Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum joined St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church and others in hosting events to commemorate the day, which was made possible by legislation sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall and Sen. Vivian Figures that unanimously passed the Legislature last spring.
“What made passage of this bill unique is that not one negative vote was cast,” said Troy University Trustee Lamar P. Higgins. “It serves as a signal to the rest of the nation that Alabama has changed, and the Montgomery of today is not the Montgomery of 1955.”
In addition to offering free admission throughout the day, the Museum held programs of commemoration in both the morning and the afternoon in its auditorium.
During the morning program, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor of Troy University, recalled meeting Mrs. Parks as the University was planning construction of the museum.
“This museum is a special place for it was right in front of this location on this day in 1955 that Rosa Parks was arrested,” Dr. Hawkins said. “As Troy University committed to build this museum, it was my privilege, and the privilege of many involved in the process, to get to know Mrs. Parks. She was such a calm and thoughtful person. It was a pleasure to get to know her and to understand the values that all of this reflects. As we go through the Christmas season, let us count our blessings. We have come so far, but I would be quick to say, we are only halfway home with a long way to go.”
Michael Briddell, director of public information and external affairs for the City of Montgomery, said the Montgomery of today is vastly different than the Montgomery of Mrs. Parks time, but there is work that remains to be done.
“I think if she were here with us today, Mrs. Parks would be pleased at how far her city has progressed but also I believe she would be cognizant that we have a lot of work to do,” Briddell said. “I think that Mrs. Parks would take joy that we continue to be inspired by her to carry on the work that remains to be done.”
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones was not able to attend Saturday’s commemoration, but offered comments via video.
“Today we celebrate an act of what Congressman John Lewis often calls good trouble,” Jones said. “Dec. 1 marks the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up on her seat on a Montgomery City Bus. Sixty-three years ago, this heroic seamstress took her place in history in sparking what would become a hallmark success in the early Civil Rights Movement – the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We still have a long road ahead. Heroes like Dr. King and Mrs. Parks knew that, but also I believe that they would be proud of how far we have come and they would want us to press on. Together, we will continue to honor their legacy by doing their work and we will continue to keep their memory alive by recommitting ourselves to the shared cause of justice and equality.”
The program also featured the screening of the short film “Architects of Change,” produced by Breanna and Brooke Bennett. The 11-year-old twin sisters were inspired to make the film, featuring an interview with Barbara Cross, survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, after attending the Museum’s Architects of Change summer camp.
Troy University senior theatre and dance student Adira Burton also portrayed Rosa Parks during the presentation “Letters from Children.”
Dr. Felicia Bell, director of the Rosa Parks Museum, said Mrs. Parks’ legacy includes more than her Dec. 1, 1955 arrest, and she hopes the annual commemoration will help to shed light on someone who was a lifelong activist.
“It is an opportunity to learn more about Mrs. Parks as a woman and all she was involved with in terms of her activism,” Dr. Bell said. “Mrs. Parks was an activist all of her life, so she should be remembered for much more than just the day she was arrested. Hopefully, this day provides an opportunity to reflect and learn more about her and how she contributed to the State of Alabama and our nation.”
Saturday afternoon, participants in the day’s events walked, arm-in-arm, from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church to the Rosa Parks Museum to take part in another commemoration. A standing room-only crowd packed the Museum’s auditorium to hear comments from Ray White, vice chancellor of TROY’s Montgomery Campus, and comments from Chief U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins and U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson, both of Alabama’s Middle District.
The program also featured musical selections performed by the Johnnie Carr Middle School Choir.