When guests see the Rosa Parks bus on display inside Henry Ford Museum, they are often in awe. Speechless. Moved, even.
And you don’t have to merely look at this magnificent milestone in American history. When you visit Henry Ford Museum, you can actually climb aboard, walk the narrow aisle of the bus – and even sit in the very seat that Rosa Parks occupied on December 1, 1955. (Ask the presenter near the bus to show you which seat it was.)
But during that visit, two questions are typically asked: “Is it THE bus?” and “How did The Henry Ford get it?”
The answer to the first question: Yes, it is. And there’s a great story to this, too.
How the bus was acquired is a more modern story. In September 2001, an article in the Wall Street Journal announced that the Rosa Parks bus would be available in an Internet auction in October. Once we had confirmed the answer to the question posed above, we entered the online auction and came out the highest bidder.
After nearly five months of restoration, with support from the Save America’s Treasures grant program, the Rosa Parks bus made its return to the floor of Henry Ford Museum on February 1, 2002. (With Liberty And Justice For All, the exhibition where the bus currently is displayed, had not yet been constructed.)
Paint chips from the unrestored bus, consultation with other experts, vintage postcards and eyewitness accounts from a museum employee who lived in Montgomery during the bus boycott allowed the museum to recreate the paint colors exactly.
Restoration efforts were performed on the bus down to the tiniest detail. For example: On the day Mrs. Parks boarded it, the bus was already seven years old and ran daily on the streets of Montgomery. Therefore, for authenticity, conservation experts applied recreated Alabama red dirt in the wheel wells, and tire treads and period advertising was recreated for the interior and exterior of the bus.
With all of these elements together and pondering what happened on December 1, 1955, exploring this historic artifact creates a powerful connection for many.
Have you seen the Rosa Parks bus at Henry Ford Museum? What was your experience?