HART buses will be mobile tributes to Rosa Parks

11/30/12 Janelle Irwin
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The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) is installing small brass plaques commemorating Rosa Parks in all of their buses. Transit officials showed them off today at the Yukon transfer center in Tampa's Sulphur Springs neighborhood. The move comes more than fifty years after the civil rights activist was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks just stayed put when a bus driver asked her to move. In an interview with press later, Parks said she was tired. But her stance started a ball rolling that gave the civil rights movement a crucial push. Evangeline Best, another civil rights activist, said now everyone that rides a bus in Hillsborough County will have a reminder of what Parks did.

"It’s really making people realize because, even with myself when they asked me to do this, it made me go back - get on the web, start reading more and more about the person rather than just the incident."

Best started speaking out against segregation when she was in ninth grade. She marched and participated in sit-ins in places that were only supposed to be open to white people. But even though she’s an activist too, Best has a 10 x 13 inch photo of Rosa Parks signing autographs that she keeps in her home as a reminder of what people like her and Parks went through.

"We could see the looks and the mean faces and the things that were being held at us to intimidate us and in my mind, really fight us, but we stood."

HART has done things to honor African-American history before like putting signs on buses during African-American history month and handing out bookmarks. But this is permanent. Steven Polzin, the HART board’s vice chair said because Rosa Parks’ contribution came from a bus, the act just seemed fitting.

"Public transportation has been a real asset for, not only the minority community, but any disadvantaged folks. It's their mobility. It's their access to employment and opportunity and school, etc. So, there's a natural desire to have a quality public transit system to support folks on their path and ability to participate in the economy, etc. So, there's kind of a natural synergy there as well and transit tends to have strong emphasis in the urban communities. We've got a tremendous share of our work force that's a minority population and obviously a significant share of the ridership as well. So, it's a service that they use and appreciate and it helps them have a better life so we thought it would be appropriate to commemorate it's role in civil rights as well."

Wallace Bowers, an African-American senior lived through the civil rights movement. He said it’s important to honor people like Rosa Parks that helped in the fight for equality.

"I have lived in an era where, in public transportation, that was a black water fountain, the white water fountain, the black toilet, the black entrance to restaurants, the black bus stations, you have a cubby hole in the back and because of what she did and the action that it started, we have evolved today that we have abolished all that kind of stuff."

Even though there are still stories popping up around the country about racial injustice, it is far from what it was during the civil rights movement. Yolanda Cruz, a bus rider at the Yukon transfer center in Sulphur Springs, didn’t know about the plaques, but she said she was glad to hear that Rosa Parks would be honored.

"She had actually done something that nobody did before and to me, it's like, I’m not black, but I feel proud of what she did and that's something that everybody should stand for."

The unveiling of the plaques coincided with a ceremonial re-opening of the Sulphur Springs station. HART gave the station a facelift complete with new shelters, signing and seating. HART vice chair Steven Polzin said the improvements were especially important because Hillsborough County Schools also uses the station.

"The school bus system uses this site for transfer for their magnet busing program. So, all of the buses pull in, the students run between buses and then they depart. So, this is a major transfer center for student transportation as well as a transfer center for HART. So, it's a joint use facility."

Polzin said the improvements were paid for mostly with state and federal funding, but he wasn’t sure how much the project cost. HART is currently working on their version of bus rapid transit called MetroRapid which will run along Nebraska Avenue. That route is set to open in January.

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