How do you know that this is the actual bus on which Rosa
Parks was arrested?
Rosa Parks was arrested on a Montgomery City bus on December 1,
1955, no one officially recorded the number of the bus on which
the event occurred. Thus, years later no one was quite sure which
bus it was.
However, bus company employees knew that the bus with GM Serial
Number 1132 and coach ID #2857 was reputed to be the Rosa Parks
bus. When the Montgomery City Bus Lines Company retired bus #2857
in the early 1970s, Roy H. Summerford of Montgomery bought it. At
the time, company employees told him that it was the Rosa Parks
bus. Mr. Summerford and his descendents kept the bus in a field
and used it to store lumber and tools.
When Mr. Summerford passed away, the bus became the property of
his daughter and son-in-law, Vivian and Donnie Williams, of Montgomery.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Williams believed that this was the Rosa Parks
bus, they had no documents to prove it. In 2000, Mr. and Mrs. Williams
decided that they wanted to sell the bus. However, they were unable
to sell it because they did not have any documentation.
The next year, Robert Lifson, President of Mastronet, Inc., an
Internet auction house, decided he wanted to auction the bus for
Mr. and Mrs. Williams. He began a search for documents authenticating
the bus. And he found them.
Mr. Lifson contacted retired employees of the bus company including
Mrs. Margaret Cummings, widow of the former bus station manager
Charles Homer Cummings. Mrs. Cummings provided a scrapbook of newspaper
clippings that her husband had kept during and after the Montgomery
bus boycott of 1955-56.
National City Lines (which was the parent
company of the Montgomery City Bus Lines) had employed a clipping
service to clip and save any newspaper articles about the company’s
bus service. Charles Cummings had kept the scrapbook of newspaper
articles from the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott. Next to articles
describing the arrest of Rosa Parks, he wrote "#2857"
and "Blake/#2857." James Blake was the bus driver who
had Rosa Parks arrested. Mr. Cummings’ relatives confirm that
he jotted down the bus number because he felt the events were so
this information in hand, Mr. Lifson consulted with the Motor Bus
Society of Clark, New Jersey, a nonprofit historical organization.
Their research into the records of the General Motors Corp. showed
that bus Serial Number 1132 was produced in Pontiac, Michigan, in
March 1948. It was a TDH-3610 (Transit Diesel Hydraulic Transmission,
36 passenger, Model 10) delivered to the National City Lines (NCL)
of Chicago, Illinois.
NCL records indicate that the bus was assigned Coach #2857 and
sent to Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1954 it was transferred from Terre
Haute to Montgomery, Alabama.
we know that bus #2857 was in Montgomery in 1955, that it was informally
documented as the Rosa Parks bus at the time, and that employees
passed this information on to Mr. Summerford in 1970, who then passed
it on to other people.
In October 2001, a member of the Museum’s conservation staff
personally inspected the bus, ensuring that its markings and identification
were original. A certified forensic document examiner employed by
the Museum examined the scrapbooks and saw no reason to doubt the
authenticity of the notations.
Often, as in this case, historical truth is not officially recorded,
but is passed along in private memoirs and oral tradition.