Opinion  February 17, 2022  Ivy Pratt

Outrage Over Rosa Parks Memorial Bus Seats Raises Important Questions

Wikimedia Commons.

Parks being fingerprinted by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey after being arrested on February 22, 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycott.

Early this February, after a small social media campaign ostensibly designed to build hype, Houston Metro announced that it had installed commemorative seat covers to honor Rosa Parks on her birthday.

Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the caution-tape yellow seat covers, which read “Dedicated to The Memory of Rosa Parks” in scrolling blue text, struck a nerve—particularly in the Twitter-sphere.

Still from Houston Metro's announcement video shared on Twitter.

Still from Houston Metro's announcement video shared on Twitter.

Still from Houston Metro's announcement video shared on Twitter. Shows whole seat, not detail

Still from Houston Metro's announcement video shared on Twitter.

Many individuals felt the gesture was little more than that—a gesture. It seemed like a move designed to make the company appear progressive without actually taking a stand or making a contribution to the ongoing fight for civil rights in the United States. Basically, the lack of depth to this in memoriam seemed to fly in the face of the life Parks led.

As Brooklyn College political science professor Jeanne Theoharis told the Houston Chronicle: "Rosa Parks to the end of her life in 2005 was insistent that the struggle for racial justice wasn't over and there was much more work to be done.” For context, Parks first joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943 and spent the next 62 years fighting for civil rights.

Theoharis, who also authored the award-winning biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, added that the money used for this seat cover might have been better spent raising support for and awareness of a voting rights bill that Texas senators blocked last month.

Photo by Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama sits in the famous Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum after an event in Dearborn, Michigan, April 18, 2012. Parks was arrested sitting in the same row Obama is in, but on the opposite side. 

It is vital to acknowledge that memorials, as art objects, are an age-old, integral piece of human culture and that they can spark change within the societies that erect them. It is also fundamentally good news that supporting events like Black History Month and the birthday of a famous Black American activist has become a sensible business move. These things reflect majority public sentiment, which will ultimately be the cause of big change.

Still, the real question for this author is: Will a seat cover with a headstony, epitaph-esque inscription spark change? For that matter, will angry tweets? Maybe.

But just in case, here’s a link to donate to the NAACP’s Legal Defense & Educational Fund, which played a key role in providing legal representation to Parks and remains active in the fight for civil rights.

Maybe next year, the Metro will add a QR code.

About the Author

Ivy Pratt

Ivy Pratt is a regular contributor to Art & Object.

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