MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A Smithsonian Institution exhibit featuring a collage of photos, quotes and historical text that chronicle the Montgomery bus boycott goes on view this week as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the landmark protest.
The exhibit "381 Days: The Montgomery Bus Boycott Story" opens Friday and runs through Jan. 14 at the state Capitol before moving to Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Feb. 4 to April 6. It then starts a 14-city national tour through 2009.
"It's an American story," said Marquette Folley, project director for the Smithsonian's traveling exhibitions. "This story allows us to know that one individual standing with commitment will be joined by many and together we can start a revolution."
The boycott began four days after Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. Some 40,000 blacks took part in the 381-day protest, walking, car pooling and taking cabs until a legal challenge ended the city's racially segregated bus system.
Although Parks' arrest was the catalyst for the boycott, the exhibit also examines the contributions of the many Montgomery blacks whose refusal to ride the bus drained the city financially and drew national attention to the emerging civil rights movement.
"The lynchpin of all of this is that people did it nonviolently," said Ruth Rambo, associate state director of AARP, which is underwriting the exhibit. "It was a question of looking at the finances of the city and seeing where they can make a difference, and here we are with more opportunities than we had 50 years ago."
The exhibit, with assistance from the Alabama Historical Commission and Troy University's Rosa Parks Library and Museum, will be celebrated Thursday with an opening reception at the Capitol. Anniversary kickoff events Thursday also include an eight-block children's march to the Capitol from the downtown site where Parks was arrested.
While Parks' arrest inspired the boycott, other black women were the plaintiffs in the federal court lawsuit - known as Browder vs. Gayle - that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregated public transportation.
Principals of that case will be honored at the exhibit's reception along with the founding members of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which organized the citywide boycott. Each of the Browder honorees will receive an original quilt square designed, constructed and signed by Gee's Bend quilters - rural black women whose stunning quilt designs have become a traveling museum exhibit. The MIA will be honored with a full-sized quilt, which will be displayed in its honor in the Rosa Parks Museum.