Montgomery Bus Boycott Celebrations
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.
Residents, dignitaries and visitors in Montgomery, Alabama, are participating in the second day of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. Yesterday's events included a re-enactment of the arrest of Rosa Parks, plus a children's march. Gina Smith is a reporter for Alabama Public Radio. She was at several events yesterday, and she joins me now. Welcome, Gina.
GINA SMITH reporting:
Thank you. It's good to be here.
CHIDEYA: Well, you know, it's really a moment in time where we have so quickly come from the death of Rosa Parks and are moving on to these celebrations. Give us an example of what people are really feeling right now.
SMITH: People here realize the importance of her contribution, and though her death was unfortunate and very sad, people began celebrating her life then. It's as though things began just a little bit early, just a little bit prior to that official 50th anniversary mark. But it's just unfortunate that she was not able to see those thousands of kids marching in her honor yesterday.
CHIDEYA: I can only imagine. Well, let's hear a little bit of those children who came to the children's march.
Unidentified Child #1: Rosa Parks help us to freedom by standing up for what was right on the bus.
Unidentified Child #2: She gave rights to a bunch of people, and without her, the world just wouldn't be the same.
Unidentified Child #3: She's connected the blacks and the whites together to be friends and she did lots of good things for us.
CHIDEYA: What was the real purpose of the children's march?
SMITH: I believe that it was to give them a sense of remembrance for not only Rosa Parks, but the thousands of black Montgomerians who walked to work, who walked to church, who refused to ride the bus to make that stand beginning in December of 1955. And one young man in particular struck me with the memories of his grandfather. His name is Terrence Phillips(ph), and he's a junior at Montgomery's Jefferson Davis High School. And he says his grandfather told him what it was like to struggle for equality.
TERRENCE PHILLIPS (Student): I think it's important to walk here for me, because my grandfather walked directly behind Martin Luther King, and if he was still living today, you know what I'm saying, he would smile, and he would probably be walking right beside me. He told me it was, like, he thought it was his duty to do that for his race and just for him, so he could see me 50 years from when he walked, you know what I'm saying, in a better position, going to a better school and actually have acceptance in the world now.
CHIDEYA: It seems as if this was a truly intergenerational day. You have the children, you have people who are from the hip-hop generation or at least post-civil rights. What about people who were actually there?
SMITH: It's always amazing to listen to Mrs. Johnnie Carr. She is 94 years old, and she's the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which is the organization that was organized to coordinate the Montgomery bus boycott. She spoke to those thousands of schoolchildren when they reached the capital, shared her memories of Rosa Parks with them, shared her memories of participating in this boycott herself, and how important it is to, as she said, look back but keep marching forward.
Mrs. JOHNNIE CARR: And to me, to come here today and for us to be honoring memory of what happened at that particular time, to give us inspiration, information so that we can go forward for the thing that Rosa Parks started when she refused to give up her seat and was arrested right here on this spot, so this spot has a lot of meaning here, and I think we should think about that, and to the organizations that are honoring her memory for what she did, all of us should thank God for Rosa Parks.
CHIDEYA: So, Gina, I can only imagine what it's like to be a part of living history. How do residents of Montgomery feel about being in the spotlight?
SMITH: You know, I think that they like it. It's a positive spotlight. It shows that Montgomery is not the city it was 50 years ago, and most of the national coverage you read, hear and see reflects that. It gives the city an opportunity to show the world its growth, as well as the lessons it's learned from its past.
CHIDEYA: And what about public officials? You have some notable young up-and-coming politicians in the area. Give us a sense of what they're doing.
SMITH: We have several, as you said, who have come to Montgomery. They're here celebrating the anniversary. One in particular is Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, who represents Alabama's 7th District. He is actually a native of Montgomery, and he really provided a wonderful illustration of how far things have come since the 1950s in Montgomery.
Representative ARTUR DAVIS (Democrat, Alabama): Yes, our country was born in sin and in shame in so many ways, but God made us changeable. There's a 63-year-old woman in this city who remembers sitting on the back of the bus and remembers being told to move. She gets to see her son as a United States congressman for the state of Alabama. God is good. Our country is good. And I'm thankful and honored to be here today.
CHIDEYA: So let me just ask you this, Gina. A week from now, a month from now, a year from now, when Montgomery's history still exists but perhaps there won't be as many crowds, what will people remember and take away from these celebrations, you think?
SMITH: I think they're always going to remember the contributions that Mrs. Parks, but not only the contributions that she made, the contributions made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the other civil rights pioneers, and I believe the city of Montgomery will be thankful that what became one of the greatest struggles for freedom in American history began right here.
CHIDEYA: Gina Smith is the Montgomery bureau reporter for Alabama Public Radio. Thank you so much for joining us.
SMITH: Thank you.
Group: (Singing) This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
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