With yesterday’s 60th anniversary of the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute hosted a panel to mark Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man. But the talk didn’t stay focused on history. It quickly turned to the present, particularly the problems plaguing Birmingham’s buses.
“Where are we? Have we made any gains?” wondered Ahmad Ward, vice president of education for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “[We are] looking at access to transportation as a civil right.”
Ward told stories from his own family about how life without a car in Birmingham is difficult and exhausting.
The auditorium was packed with bus riders and community activists, and the panel discussion became an open forum for riders airing grievances. They told stories of hours-long commutes and buses that breakdown.
“Transportation is a quality of life issue,” Georgette Norman, the former director of the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University, interjected. She explained that Montgomery faces many of the same issues as Birmingham. While the protests of the 50s and 60s integrated buses, parks, and schools, oppression and inequality remain, Norman said.
“Our reform has been superficialized,” Norman said. “We have to get back to the whole idea of human rights. Does it matter that I can walk into any restaurant sit down and be served if I don’t have the price of the meal?”
Or, Norman continued, does it matter if buses are integrated if they can’t get you anywhere? For these Birmingham residents the answer seems to be no.