MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — It was 65 years ago that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery. Her act of defiance led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the modern civil rights movement.
Now, the US military is honoring Parks and shedding light on a part of her history that helped inspire her stand.
Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery unveiled a monument to Parks near the spot where she once worked in 1941.
“Her bravery on December 1, 1955, paved a path for equal access and opportunity for all Americans,” said Col. Eries Mentzer, the Commander of Maxwell AFB.
Back in the 1940s, the air force base was known as Maxwell Field, part of the Army Air Corps. But it was ahead of its time in how it treated people of color.
Unlike the rest of Montgomery, Maxwell Field was fully integrated. That meant blacks and whites worked together, shared public spaces together and road the base trolley together.
“She joined a community of mutual respect, sharply contrasting Jim Crow discrimination she had known. She said she saw Maxwell as a place that treated everyone fairly, regardless of race,” said Secretary of the Air Force, Barbara Barrett.
Barrett joined base officials, along with city and civil rights leaders in unveiling the sculpture.
Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson also spoke about Parks’ legacy.
“I think it’s wonderful she’s being honored on a U-S military base because she was a soldier. She was a fighter who believed deeply in inequality and justice,” Stevenson said.
The role Parks’ experience at Maxwell Air Field played in her life and legacy wasn’t lost on Montgomery’s first black mayor Steven Reed.
“I stand here because of people who blazed a trail for me. So that I would have a clear path,” Reed said.
The monument unveiling at Maxwell Air Force Base also kicked off a 382-day initiative of diversity and inclusion in the capital city. The same length of time as the bus boycott.
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