Reserved Iowa City bus seats will honor civil rights icon Rosa Parks

In this Feb. 22, 1956, file photo, Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., after refu
In this Feb. 22, 1956, file photo, Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. (Associated Press)

IOWA CITY — Sixty-five years ago this year, civil rights icon Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.

During February, one seat in each of Iowa City Transit’s 27 buses will be reserved in her honor.

“In recognition and in honor of the 65th anniversary of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger, we thought we would work with Iowa City Transit on somehow recognizing and celebrating that historical fact,” said Stefanie Bowers, equity and human rights director for the city.

Parks, a black woman, was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her arrest launched a citywide bus boycott that became a key moment in the civil rights movement.

Bowers said the Iowa City had been planning for some time to mark the anniversary of Parks’ historic act and wanted a creative way to commemorate it. City staff ultimately drew inspiration from cities such as Dallas, Milwaukee and Lexington, Ky., that have done similar commemorations, Bowers said.

“We’re not the first to do it,” she said. “We were certainly encouraged by what other cities have done in terms of recognizing Rosa Parks.”

Throughout February, which also is Black History Month, one seat on every Iowa City bus will have a sign attached to it featuring a photo of Parks that reads, “This seat is reserved in honor of Rosa Parks.”


“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true,” a quote from Parks on the commemorative image reads. “I was not tired physically. ... No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I was a person with dignity and self-respect, and I should not set my sights lower than anybody else just because I was black.”

The image also features a QR code that will take passengers who scan it to search results for all the materials found at the Iowa City Public Library related to Parks. A commemorative rose will be placed on each of the 27 seats, as well, Bowers said.

“We wanted to recognize the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ protest as it was a watershed moment in the civil rights movement and also offer an opportunity for the public to learn about and reflect on what that moment meant for the country,” said Darian Nagle-Gamm, director of transportation services.

Bowers said various city departments have made efforts to recognize important figures and moments in human and civil rights.

“We can always do more, though,” she said. “It’s really important for us to not forget these events or the people who paved the way for the rights we have today.”

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