SALT LAKE CITY — Just over six decades ago, a single act of civil disobedience on a city bus in the deep South launched a movement that changed the United States forever.
It was Dec. 1, 1955, when 42-year-old seamstress Rosa Parks was riding on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and was told by a bus driver to give up her seat for a white passenger. Parks refused and was arrested.
That courageous act of nonviolent resistance, together with efforts from civil rights leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., helped spark an 11-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system and a historic movement against institutional racism throughout the country.
Parks’ bravery helped ensure that all people share equal rights and have equal access to services like public transportation, explained Kenya Fail, manager of civil rights compliance for the Utah Transit Authority.
“(Her act) changed the way we do things right now,” Fail said. “That’s what’s so amazing about what she did … and continued to endure and (persevere). Back then, people were paying the (same) money but weren’t being treated equally.”
Today, UTA wants people to know that it values diversity in its riders and employees, she said.
“Our passengers span diverse ethnic and economic groups,” Fail said. “It is our privilege to serve all of our passengers, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic background.”
In commemoration of Rosa Parks Day, the agency displayed a 1955-era bus at Salt Lake Central Station. The bus was fully overhauled by UTA employees who volunteered their time and labor to restore it to mint condition.
The bus is comparable to the one Parks rode in 1955 — a similar model with some modifications and a similar paint scheme. The orange and green exterior was much like the buses in Montgomery County, and both buses were manufactured by General Motors, explained UTA fleet manager Rulon Chappell.
Being able to showcase a classic vehicle to honor such a significant time in the nation’s history was “exciting,” Chappell said.
“It’s nice that we actually have something to remind people of what it was like back then,” he said. “People can see this, and it has real meaning.”