Rosa Parks

In this Feb. 22, 1956, file photo, Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., two months after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. She was arrested with several others who violated segregation laws. Parks' refusal to give up her seat led to a boycott of buses by blacks in December 1955, a tactic organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which ended after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that all segregation was unlawful on Dec. 20, 1956. 

After citing the great expense to observe Rosa Parks Day as a holiday, Auburn City council members and staff are exploring alternatives to honor the civil rights activist.

“What I initially wanted to do was declare a holiday honoring Ms. Parks, but since then, from city manager Jim Buston, I got some information that it will cost over $130,000 to declare a holiday,” Ward 8 Councilman Tommy Dawson said. “I don’t feel like it would be money well spent given our current needs in the community.”

Dawson sought to find an affordable but meaningful alternative to honoring the endeavors of the historical figure, which he said stems from his mother’s support for racial equality.

“I was asked, ‘why are you doing this?’” Dawson said. “I can only imagine it could have only been my mother. She said, ‘I don’t think they’ve been fair to that lady.’ I admire Parks for the standing she took, and I think we need to be one of the first cities in Alabama to do something to honor her.”

Holiday ideas

After speaking with Dawson, Ward 1 Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor began researching ideas by gathering insight from other state officials. She suggested placing a library named after the activist in the Boykin Community Center and designating a day of celebration.

“I talked with State Representative Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) to see how they handle the holiday for other cities, and the majority of the cities don’t celebrate it as a holiday,” Taylor said. “We can choose Dec. 1 to do something at the library in honor of that day.”

Parks was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, after refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger.

Buston elicited the assistance of Auburn city staff to brainstorm ideas, and the city manager presented each option to the council.

“One of the staff members suggested the possibly of the new outdoor area that is being developed at the current library to be named after Rosa Parks,” Buston said. “They had some similar ideas of having a special day on Dec. 1 that celebrates her and has programs about her life and history.”

Another staff member mentioned naming the greenway currently under development around Sam Harris Park after Parks.

“Perhaps we could consider a day of service as well," Ward 2 Councilman Kelley Griswold said. "We could dedicate a day where the city kind of pours all of its assets into a single focus area and do that on an annual basis."

An educational opportunity

Buston recommended the Rosa Parks festivities could coincide with a neighborhood clean-up day as a third option presented by the staff, but Dawson stressed the importance of utilizing the celebration as an educational opportunity.

“If the rest of the council would agree, I think it should be a situation where it’s educational,” Dawson said. “School children can go and learn about Ms. Parks and the sacrifices she made and things she did. I think we are in danger in this country of forgetting the sacrifices made by our ancestors in the past, and I would like to see a learning environment where they can teach exactly what she did.”

After receiving approval from the council to establish a day of celebration, Auburn Mayor Ron Anders requested further deliberation to discuss honoring Parks. With the collaboration of the staff, Buston will continue to provide suggestions before the council finalizes its decision.

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