Every school child in America knows the name Rosa Parks. I grew up revering this brave woman and in awe of the movement that grew from her act of defiance on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Last fall I had the privilege of seeing that bus. I’m thinking about it today because yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of the day Rosa Parks said no more and refused to give up her seat.
The bus is on display at The Henry Ford, the museum complex named for founder Henry Ford. Located in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, this complex consists partly of an outdoor village of landmarks plucked from the world over and displayed for visitors to tour. The Wright Brothers’ shop and Thomas Edison’s Laboratory are among the many noteworthy sites here and you can even take a Model T ride to tour the place.
Inside the museum you’ll find any number of interesting things. Presidential limos, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford Theater and the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile to name a few.
The thing that most captivated my attention was The Rosa Parks Bus. For a history buff, it was awe inspiring to see the bus and to hear the real story of what happened that day and how her choices helped to shape a movement.
As a middle aged white chick from 21st century southern Ohio it’s hard to imagine the courage it took. I can’t fathom what life was like for her on that day or any other. Maybe that’s why I have carried the memories with me so closely – this exhibit was the most thought provoking of them all for me.
The bus had been long retired and in bad shape when it went up for auction in 2001. Not long after, a substantial restoration began at the Henry Ford. Today it is part of the With Liberty and Justice For All exhibit.
This exhibit. I don’t even know what to say about this exhibit. To reach the bus, you walk down a corridor past Klan propaganda and a robe and hood. It’s like a punch in the gut.
But then you come into this light, bright, open space with the bus – I just stood there for the longest time.
You can go on board the bus. There’s someone there to show you where she sat and to tell you the story – not just the abbreviated version they teach in school – but the entire story.
We sat on the bus for a few minutes and listened. I was impressed that everyone, all the tourists – people of all ages and races – were quiet and respectful. Reverent. In other exhibits you could hear laughter. Kids ran around. People pointed and chatted. Here, you could hear a pin drop.
I stand by my belief that people would like history better if they had more experiences like this one. History isn’t just the dates and locations and events we’re forced to memorize in school. The places and events and humanity of history come to life in places likes The Henry Ford and in exhibits like this one.
There’s a spectacular boutique hotel not too far away called The Henry and lots of other Ford related things to do in the area. If you’re into music, make a reservation to tour Motown. I missed out that trip but it’s on my list to see someday! Try breakfast at Leon’s and don’t forget to look up some Detroit style pizza while you’re in town. It’s deep dish, square and delicious.
Some other day I’ll tell you about a few of other incredible things you’ll find at the Henry Ford