Reflections On The Rosa Parks Bus

When planning a day at the Henry Ford Museum, there was one thing I really wanted to do. I wanted to have a few uninterrupted minutes on the Rosa Parks bus.

To make this wish a reality, I was there when they opened and then headed straight for this exhibit.

For the benefit of my international friends, Rosa Parks was a pioneer in the American Civil Rights movement. In 1955, when segregation ruled the American south, she refused to relinquish her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. The police were called and this mild mannered African American seamstress was led off to jail.

She became the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for over a year and forced the desegregation of the city’s buses.

The Henry Ford Museum confirmed the authenticity of the bus and outbid some major players (including the Smithsonian) to the tune of $492,000. However, after sitting outside for about thirty years, the bus required a massive restoration project that cost another $300,000. As you can tell, they really wanted to preserve this piece of history.

And honestly, they did a great job.

Sitting there, I kept thinking it could be 1955 just as easily as it was 2019. The bus is immaculate but it’s not just a museum piece. You are welcomed aboard and invited to sit a while. You can even sit in her seat.

The docent was good at his job, answering my questions and relating the story for me. He even took my picture.

However, he also gave me time to sit quietly and absorb the magnitude of this space and of the actions of one woman, who on that one day, said enough is enough. History was made with that split second decision, made under the glare of a white driver who was known for being unfriendly to his black passengers on a good day.

A hastily organized boycott crippled the city bus system and forced changes into law. She wasn’t seeking fame or money or publicity of any kind. She didn’t appreciate the attention she received but later said she was just tired of giving in.

With all that is happening in our country today and with leaders who seem to encourage the divide between races, there was something reassuring about sitting in her seat. It was a great reminder that a 42 year old seamstress could start a revolution because she was tired of giving in.

The moment felt both sacred and peaceful.

I had that bus all to myself for several minutes before anyone else arrived and I was grateful for every passing second. Still, it was gratifying to walk by later in the day to find the bus full of a diverse group of people who wanted to have the experience too.

The bus is part of a larger exhibit that covers segregation and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. At the same time the museum bought the bus, they also acquired a scrapbook containing a number of news clippings you can read. There are some interactive features here and some truly disturbing things including a flier for a cross burning that sounds like an invitation to a Sunday school picnic rather than a hate rally.

I felt sorrow that our country hasn’t advanced more than it has and I felt gratitude for the progress we have made, even knowing there are plenty of people who would look at such hateful materials and think they’re ok.

If you find your way to the Henry Ford Museum, make time for this exhibit. Read the materials, watch the videos, listen to the songs and think about what it all means.

Sixty-five years ago sounds like a long time but it isn’t that long at all. We have plenty of people living in this country today who remember all too well not being allowed to eat in a restaurant, drink from a water fountain or use a waiting room because of the color of their skin.

After Rosa Parks stood up for her beliefs by sitting down, close to another decade passed before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law changing all of that for good.

But while the law guarantees equality, racial divide is still far too great in this country. I’m as white as can be and I do not take responsibility for things that happened before me but I do think it’s my right and duty to contribute something positive to the world I live in now. I can’t change the past but I can help change the future by showing kindness and empathy and by celebrating our similarities rather than complain about the differences.

The last words today go to Rosa herself.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

I’d Love To Be An Oscar Mayer Weiner

Want to get a song stuck in your head? I’ll just leave this right here.


Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener.
That is what I’d truly like to be.
‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
Everyone would be in love with me.

Oh, I’m glad I’m not an Oscar Mayer wiener.
That is what I’d never want to be.
Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.
There would soon be nothing left of me!

And in case you ever wish to visit the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile, you can do so at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Last year I wrote about the Rosa Parks Bus which is on display there. I also wrote about their Mold-A-Rama machines and they happen to have a machine where you can get a Weiner Mobile made.

The Rosa Parks Bus

P1017014.JPGEvery 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.

Are you interested in visiting The Henry Ford?  You should! From southern Ohio, it’s just about 4.5 hours up to Dearborn. If you go now, they have special events for the holidays.

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