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Rosa Parks Bus
The Story Behind the Bus
Save America's Treasures Grant Supports Bus Restoration
Chronology of Civil Rights Movement
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How do you know that this is the actual bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested?

When 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 important.

With 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.

Thus, 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.

Copyright © 2002 The Henry Ford