Tag Archives: Rosa Parks


As I mentioned a few months ago, one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in years is The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by Jeanne Theoharis. I underlined so much of the text that the parts that are not underlined now stand out, but one passage in Chapter Five made a special impression. I think of it almost daily, and it has profoundly influenced the standard I set for myself as a person who claims to care about justice.

A community of black people and a smattering of white allies looked that old order, that terror, in the eye, day after day.

What makes this difficult to fully appreciate is that certain core precepts of the boycott have subsequently been adopted as common sense: that segregation was a systematic apparatus of social and economic power and that resistance to it was possible. Most Americans now look back in the glow of that new truth, assuming that they too would have remained seated, written letters to the local paper, risked their jobs to print 35,000 leaflets, or spoken out in favor of boycotting the buses.

If we tell ourselves that we would have stood up (or sat down) in 1955, then we must ask ourselves in what ways we are standing up right now, in the face of all of the injustice that is happening around us: racism, poverty, income inequality, mass incarceration, the destruction of our communities and our planet.

Are we shaking our heads and wishing things were different? Are we allowing ourselves to be convinced that our goals are unrealistic? Are we asking for less than real change because of politics or what we think we can “get”? Are we holding our tongues or staying home because we are afraid to jeopardize our material possessions or social position?

Or, are we gathering our courage, risking rejection and ridicule, sacrificing (short-term) self-interest, and actively working toward change?

Thank you, Ms. Theoharis, for reminding me to do better.

The bio of this bus chick’s dreams

I’ve been leading a charmed reading life of late. Almost everything I’ve carried in my bus bag for the last year (plus) has been worth its (considerable) weight in gold: informative, compelling, inspiring. But even all this good bus reading didn’t prepare me for my most recent ride read, which absolutely rocked my world.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by civil rights scholar Jeanne Theoharis, is the most comprehensive—really, the only—political biography written about my sweet Chicklet‘s namesake. It is the book I would have written myself, had I more impressive credentials and initiative.

There is so much to learn from Theoharis’s research, even for someone who has read essentially everything available to read by (and about) Mrs. Parks. Rebellious Life examines the Rosa Parks beyond the fable. It explores her lifetime of activism—including her half century in Bus Nerd’s hometown of Detroit—and all of the ways she contributed to the struggle for freedom and justice. I am in awe of the depth of her sacrifice and commitment to her ideals. As Theoharis says in the book’s introduction:

It is a rare gift as a scholar to get to deconstruct the popular narrative and demythologize an historical figure, and in the process, discover a more impressive and substantive person underneath.

This, of course, means you’re in for many more (and more substantive) Parks-related posts in the future.

How Chicklet earned her (real) name

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and Chicklet, Busling, and I are wandering the aisles of the Douglass-Truth children’s section, looking to replenish our summer reading selection.

At a nearby table, a grandmother is reading a picture book, which happens to be one of those reinterpretations of The Wheels on the Bus, to her two-ish grandson. When she gets to, “The driver on the bus says, ‘Move on back!’” Chicklet immediately stops what she is doing.

“That’s not very nice, is it?” she asks, eyeing the grandmother suspiciously. (Don’t sleep on the Chicklet Side Eye.)

I assume that she is concerned about the lack of politeness–since she is always expected to remember her manners–and so attempt to explain that bus drivers have a job that requires them to communicate directions quickly and clearly and sometimes don’t have time to say, “please.”

This explanation doesn’t seem to satisfy her.

“But Mom,” she persists, “People can sit in the front if they want to!”

Guess she’s been paying attention.

“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds, will continue in others.” – Rosa Louise McCauley Parks

Stop that Alabama bus!

My most recent bus read was the autobiography of OG Detroit activist, Grace Lee Boggs. Come to think of it, it was the bus read before last; I finished Home last week. (I’m currently experiencing some rather extreme Toni Morrison withdrawal and am still carrying it around in my bag.)

I digress.

Among the many things I learned when reading Ms. Boggs’ book is that this amazing song exists.

I realize that it isn’t December 1st (or February 4th), but I couldn’t wait that long to share this. And really, is it ever a bad time to acknowledge the power and significance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Right. Moving on…

“Alabama Bus” was recorded in 1956, at the height of the year(+)-long boycott. The artist, Will Hairston, was a friend of Grace and her husband, James Boggs. Mr. Hairston, also known as “the Hurricane of the Motor City,” was an auto worked and preacher who was deeply involved in the struggle for social justice and economic equality.

Thank you for your contributions, Brother Hairston. And, as always, honor and respect to the Original Bus Chick, Mrs. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks.

Thank you (again), Sister Rosa

The current temperature in Montgomery, AL: 39 degrees. (To Bus Nerd’s down-south fam: My condolences.)

It is just now occurring to me how ridiculously courageous it is to start a bus boycott in December.* Shoot, just getting to church (which is only a mile north of us) on foot last Sunday in the pouring, freezing rain was an adventure. Our boycott was accidental (we missed the bus), but, now that our stop has been removed, we have to walk almost a half a mile just to get to a 48. So, bus or no, we’re going to get wet.

But I digress.

While we’re on the subject of Mrs. Parks (yes, again!), I might as well share with you that, on my latest visit to Detroit, I finally visited the Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford. (I didn’t mention it in the original post, because I had already spent too much time gushing about the Rosa Parks Transit Center. And, yes, I realize that it might be time for an intervention.) Fellow bus chicks, behold:

Rosa Parks bus

My Rosa sitting in THE Rosa’s seat








“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds, will continue in others.” – Rosa Louise McCauley Parks

*Over time, the boycott developed a pretty sophisticated system of carpools (you can read more about it in Dr. King’s Stride Toward Freedom)–despite police harassment and legal challenges–but many of the participants in the boycott walked very long distances in all kinds of weather.

The Bus Fam visits the Motor City (again)

Earlier this month, the four of us spent a week in Detroit (aka, my city-in-law), combining a work conference for me with a visit home (including a celebration of his childhood church’s 75th anniversary) for Bus Nerd. Per usual, I spent much of the visit indulging my Rosa Parks obsession, which included dragging everyone (including my Gail, who had actually already been) on a pilgrimage to the recently* completed Rosa Parks Transit Center.

On paper, the RPTC is everything a bus chick could dream of, and in real life, it lives up to the hype—at least, from the perspective of someone who didn’t actually ride any buses to or from it. It has a heated indoor waiting area; real-time arrival info; a booth selling passes, tickets, and et cetera; and (hands down best of all): a bathroom!

bus stop bathroom

The most important bus stop amenity


Honoring Chicklet’s namesake

As most of you know, Mrs. Parks is one of my idols, for reasons far beyond the (often oversimplified) story of her refusal to give up her bus seat. To be able to bring my children (including my own Rosa) to an amazing public resource dedicated to her memory was an incredibly fulfilling experience.

It was also an incredibly depressing experience.

To say that Detroit’s bus system is in crisis would be an understatement. At one of the conference sessions I attended the day before my visit to the RPTC, I learned that Detroit is 9th in the nation in transit demand–due to the size of the city’s population and the fact that a third of its residents don’t have access to a private vehicle–but 109th in the nation in the service that is deployed to meet that demand. Vehicles are in such disrepair that, on any given day, over a quarter of the buses that should be in service aren’t running. The sytem is out of money** and failing Detroiters by almost every measure. The mayor recently announced that the city is seriously considering outsourcing its management to a private contractor.

So, Detroit has a state-of-the-art, envy-inspiring transit center, and essentially no transit service. Residents (the vast majority of whom are people of color) are regularly missing work, school, and medical appointments; being left stranded at stops at all times of day and night; and enduring unpleasant, overcrowded rides on poorly functioning vehicles.

Anyone who believes, as I do, that basic mobility is a civil right, has to wonder: What would Mrs. Parks think?

*It was officially completed in 2009, which fits my definition of “recently.”
**City buses are operated by DDOT and are paid for out of the general fund. The city is in such dire fiscal straits that it must essentially choose between public safety and basic mobility. The regional bus system (SMART) is also facing major funding challenges.

Thank you, Sister Rosa

In honor of the 55th anniversary of my shero‘s momentous arrest:

I love the Neville Brothers and this tribute, but it does perpetuate the myth of Mrs. Parks as a “simple seamstress” with tired feet. Any cursory study of her life will uncover a very different story.

P.S. – Chicklet thinks this song is for her, since in our house, she’s Sister Rosa.

“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds, will continue in others.” – Rosa Parks

On writing and riding

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have many obsessions: libraries, Rosa Parks, Three Girls Bakery, Mount Rainier, and–oh yeah–buses. You might not know, since I have not thus far had occasion to write about it here, that I am also obsessed with August Wilson.

I am a huge August Wilson fan. The first time I saw one of his plays staged (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Alley Theater in Houston, back when I was a student at Rice) was transformational for me. The man has an unmatched ear for dialogue, and [ahem] I happen to enjoy listening to people talk. It’s one of the primary reasons I love the bus.

Apparently, Wilson enjoyed buses for the same reason. Transit geek/novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez just hipped me to the fact that the famed playwright, a resident of our fair city (incidentally, another of my obsessions) from 1990 until his death in 2005, rode Metro. A lot.

All these years of semi-stalking the man, and I didn’t know. It wasn’t mentioned in any of the zillions of bios I read about him over the years–or at either of the memorials I attended after his death. And yet, all it took was a quick online search to confirm* Dolen’s assertion. August Wilson did, indeed, ride the bus–probably, given the location of his home and his regular haunts–a lot of the same routes I frequent.**

So, it seems that, in addition to providing us time to enjoy the creative work of others, riding transit can also aid the creative process. Toni Morrison (yet another of my obsessions) has said she used her subway rides to work on her first novel, and, as I’ve just discovered, Wilson found inspiration (and probably a lot of material) on the bus. Perhaps I should break out my own (10-year-old-and-as-yet-unpublished) novel. After all, a good quarter of it was written en route.

*This article is in the Boston Globe archives, and I had to pay to read it. I doubt the link will actually show the full text.
**Too bad we never (that I know of) shared a ride. Even my friend Aileen, who boasts of actually meeting him at Red and Black Books back in the day, would be jealous.