Visitors to Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum will now be greeted by a new sculpture of the ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ by Ian Mangum.
Unveiled during a special ceremony on Rosa Parks Day, the work, created with the use of powder-coated steel, depicts the face of Mrs. Parks, something the artist felt was extremely important.
“When I was first approached about the project, I looked at what was already done for Rosa Parks. I wanted to make something truly unique and different,” Mangum said. “It was also very important to me that we could see her face. People in Montgomery and in Alabama know who she is, but the more I talked to people outside of Alabama, I learned that people didn’t really know what she looked like.”
The sculpture is the second created by Mangum with the first being unveiled last year at Maxwell Air Force Base near where Mrs. Parks and her husband, Raymond, once worked.
“Before Rosa Parks became the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, she was an Army Air Corps civilian. She worked on Maxwell Air Force Base in our base hotel,” said Col. Eries Mentzer, Maxwell Air Force Base Commander, speaking during the unveiling ceremony. “Her husband, Raymond, worked in our barber shop. It was on Maxwell Air Force Base where they first experienced inclusion. They rode an integrated trolly. They were able to come together with men and women of Maxwell in integrated public spaces. And, when they left Maxwell Air Force Base, they could not. They were treated as less than.”
Col. Mentzer said she was honored to be included in the ceremony, which took place at the museum’s entrance at the location of Mrs. Parks’ Dec. 1, 1955 arrest.
“It is the honor of my career to be here today because if not for Mrs. Rosa Parks, if not for Mr. Fred Gray, if not for all of those foot soldiers who led the way toward a more inclusive America, I would not be here today and I am truly grateful,” she said.
Troy University Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., thanked Mangum for sharing his talent and his artwork with the museum, which was opened on Dec. 1, 2000.
“We look forward to many thousands and thousands of visitors having the opportunity to enjoy the work as they approach and leave this very special place,” Dr. Hawkins said. “I am delighted that five states have designated a day in memory of Mrs. Rosa Parks, but we have five down and 45 more to go. I think in time that will occur. It needs to be a nationally recognized day to recognize all that took place here in this special place.”
Dr. Hawkins said visitors from around the world have visited the museum to learn of the story of Mrs. Parks and the foot soldiers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“Since we opened this museum, over a million people from over 100 countries have participated in this experience,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Well over 100 members of the United States Congress have been here. All of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement have come through this very special place. It was particularly special to our late friend, the ‘Boy from Troy’ as proclaimed by Martin Luther King, Jr., John Robert Lewis. This is a special place that he brought 12 delegations of Congress men and women through so that they could understand the significance of the story and what happened here.”
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed reminded those in attendance that the impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott continues to provide important lessons for today.
“The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for a nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and serve as an example for other campaigns that followed,” Reed said.
Civil Rights icon Fred Gray, Sr. was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. Gray, an attorney and author, represented both Mrs. Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in court cases.
Marking 66 years since Mrs. Parks’ arrest, Gray said the impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was felt around the world.
“Looking back over these 66 years, there’s no question in my mind that the events that occurred in Montgomery over that period of time, with divine intervention and with the help of some 40,000 African-Americans staying off of the buses, not only changed the city of Montgomery, the state of Alabama, and these United States, but also changed the world,” Gray said.
Gray encouraged young people in the audience to continue to explore ways to make a difference in the world and take the necessary action to lead change within their communities.
Closing out the ceremony, Shelia Jackson performed songs that were among Mrs. Parks’ favorites, and The Westerlies, an award-winning, New York-based brass quartet, performed the song, “For Rosa,” which was composed by Mason Bynes.
The unveiling ceremony was one of several events held in Montgomery on Wednesday to celebrate Rosa Parks Day.
The Westerlies performed a free Rosa Parks Day concert Wednesday afternoon in the Rosa Parks Museum’s auditorium, and the museum held the program, “Preserving Their Legacy: Activism Then and Now,” featuring keynote speaker Karen Gray Houston, an award-winning broadcast journalist whose career spanned more than 40 years. Houston, the daughter of Judge Thomas W. Gray, a founding member of the Montgomery Improvement Association, and the niece of civil rights attorney Fred Gray, is the author of “Daughter of the Boycott: Carrying on a Montgomery Family’s Civil Rights Legacy.” The program also included performances by members of Women In Training, Inc., a youth empowerment organization founded by sisters Breanna and Brooke Bennett to advocate for menstrual equity and education and engage in community service and social justice.