Iowa City Transit initiative saves a seat for Rosa Parks to honor her stance against segregation

Iowa City’s transit systems have reserved a seat on each of their buses to honor Rosa Parks and create a learning opportunity for the community’s commuters.


Raquele Decker

A Iowa City transit bus seat is seen on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Transit will be saving a seat in honor of Rosa Parks throughout the month of February, which is Black History Month.

Riley Davis, News Reporter

Sixty-five years ago, Rosa Parks took a stand against segregation by refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus. Now, Iowa City transit systems are celebrating her bravery by reserving a seat on each bus in her honor.

Iowa City Equity and Human Rights Director Stefanie Bowers said that Dec. 1, 2020 will mark the 65th anniversary of Parks’ arrest after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, which sparked a bus boycott. The city wanted to recognize the historic event during its Black History Month celebration this month, but the dates didn’t align because Parks made her stand in December, she said.

Instead, the city will focus on celebrating Parks for the anniversary of her birth date, which fell on Feb. 4, 1913, Bowers said. The “Save a Seat for Rosa Parks” initiative was inspired by other cities that previously did transit-related initiatives to honor Parks, she added.

“It’s an opportunity to learn more about Mrs. Parks and her life and her history. She was an activist prior to the event on Dec. 1, and she continued to be an activist in the movement for civil rights until the time of her death,” Bowers said. “So [the initiative is] an opportunity for people to learn more about Mrs. Parks and to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement.”

The initiative began Feb. 3 and will run every day until the end of the month, she said. Each seat includes a photo of Parks and a scannable QR code that links to the Iowa City Public Library’s profile of the public figure, Bowers said.

RELATED: Black History Month celebrated in multiple UI events throughout February

Bowers added that this initiative, as well as other initiatives and events that Iowa City is doing to celebrate Black History Month, try to showcase that black history is American history and highlight that it should be celebrated every day — not just during the month of February.

City of Iowa City Transportation Operations Supervisor Susan Bethel said the bus drivers are supportive of the idea and report that passengers have been very respectful of the reserved seats.

“One driver told me that the passengers themselves kind of self-regulate,” Bethel said. “If they see someone start to sit there, [passengers] point it out to them and then [those people move] to other seats.”

Bethel said she doubts that passengers intentionally sit in Parks’ seat but are in a rush and don’t really see the sign. So far, the public likes the initiative and it’s a great way to commemorate Parks and her achievements, Bethel said.

Mary Coleman, who was the first African American teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School and is an active participant in Black History Month, said the initiative is a great idea and creates a teachable moment for the community. Coleman hopes that it will be especially impactful for young children who ride the bus so that they can learn who Parks was and what she stood for, she said.

“Rosa Parks has been ingrained in our head as a courageous, brave woman, but I’m sure she was courageous and brave other than on that bus. I don’t think that she became courageous and brave [in that moment],” Coleman said. “I think that was a part of her demeanor and that was the part that was recognized and remembered.”