If you weren’t sure of where you were or what year you were living in, you might have thought you’d stepped back in time last Thursday during Loretto Hospital’s Montgomery Bus Boycott reenactment.
The reenactment paid tribute to Rosa Parks and the era of mid-1950s Montgomery, Ala., where blacks were facing and fighting against discrimination in the segregated South. As part of Black History Month, Loretto employees and neighborhood residents recreated the events of Dec. 5, 1955 when seamstress and social activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery.
Many of the participants in the Feb. 23 reenactment at Loretto, 645 S. Central, wore 1950s-style clothing. More than 70 people, including some opting for present-day attire, marched from Loretto’s Flournoy Street entrance north along Central Avenue, crossing the street on Harrison and traversing south to the parking lot across the street from the hospital.
In 1955 Montgomery, black Alabamans refused to board buses during the bus boycott, which was actually being organized prior to Mrs. Parks’ defiant stand. Instead, blacks would walk to work, home or elsewhere. That cost the public transit system in Montgomery a lot of revenue and got the white power structure’s attention.
The Thursday march ended in the parking lot as people hoisted signs reading, “We Demand Equal Rights” and sang songs such as “We Shall Overcome.”
Austin resident and senior citizen Lovie Pryor portrayed Rosa Parks. For years, people told Pryor that she looked like Rosa Parks. Loretto staff asked her to portray the legendary activist who died just last year, and Pryor happily consented.
“It was really heartwarming to reenact what this great lady must have gone through,” said Pryor. “It must have taken a lot of courage to live in that day and age, knowing what the rules were for black people.”
A bus, vintage 1950, was provided by CTA, giving the reenactment a historically authentic feel. Mrs. Parks/Pryor boarded the bus from the front, paid and exited to reenter through the rear?”a standard procedure for blacks during that time.
Several white participants portrayed passengers. Pryor was escorted off the bus as was Mrs. Parks 50 years ago.
“This arrest captivated the whole nation,” said Rev. Dale Kelley, director of the Austin YMCA, addressing the crowd. “We thank Rosa Parks for her courage. She was a strong black woman who took a stand.”
Chicago Water Reclamation District Commissioner Barbara McGowan showed up in appropriate attire, sporting her late mother’s purse, which she’s had for 30 years. She said she brought it out for this special occasion.
“We’ve got to know what our people [went through],” she said. “I think this reenactment is a part of our history, and it’s a reminder; and we need those reminders because we tend to forget. We need to be reminded of our past history, which will only help us in the future.”