Sixty-one years ago one woman took a seat, and simultaneously took a stand for the Civil Rights Movement. The story of Rosa Parks is important and we must honor it in remembrance of our unequal past. It is also important to show support for barrier breakers who have shaped Richmond.
Transportation plays an integral role within the greater story of Civil Rights. Richmond’s largest public transportation company seeks to be the driving force of promoting historical awareness.
The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) is honoring leaders of the past and Richmonders of the present for this February’s Black History month.
For years, the GRTC has honored Rosa Parks by annually reserving the first passenger seat on the bus in her legacy. However, this year, Carrie Rose Pace, GRTC’s public relations manager, and various department heads within the GRTC had a new vision.
“We wanted to not only honor Ms. Parks, but also look at our own black history makers,” she says.
GRTC has continued the tradition of the reserved seat on Parks’ birthday – February 4th. A “Thanks Rosa Parks!” birthday announcement was boldly displayed on the screen atop all of the buses. Pace says this is in direct representation of Parks inner light.
Photo courtesy of GRTC
However, this year the remembrance of our past transforms into a celebration of two living and two deceased African American barrier breakers with strong ties to our community. The GRTC partnered with Richmond’s history preserving institution, The Valentine, to brainstorm some black history-makers. For each week in February, four names will independently shine on the buses’ brightly lit announcement screens.
Arthur Ashe slammed his way to the top tier of professional tennis and became the first black American to be ranked No. 1 in the world. Before his backhand built this legacy, his backyard was located in Richmond. He is honored the first week of the GRTC initiative.
Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson Photo courtesy Virginia Historical Society
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson tapped and acted his way into the most highly paid African American entertainer spot in the country of his era. He danced with Shirley Temple, years after supposedly swaying down the steps while he worked at The Jefferson Hotel. He will be honored the second week of this initiative.
Twenty-six years ago, Richmond native L. Douglas Wilder became the first African-American to
become a governor of any state in America. He also served as the mayor of Richmond from 2005 to 2009 (and is rumored to be contemplating another term in the Mayor's Office). Currently, Wilder shares his intellect with students as a professor at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. The GRTC will honor Wilder during the third week of February.
Before standing on the 2009 Global Globe awards’ stage, Blair Underwood sang in ‘West Side Story’ on Theatre IV’s stage in Richmond. Although Underwood is not a Richmond native, he spent a chunk of his teenage years in Petersburg. Underwood is a modern, philanthropic figurehead, who has spearheaded AIDS healthcare with his own health clinic in Washington, D.C. He will be honored in the final week of February.
The GRTC website offers a comprehensive list of the above recipients’ achievements.
Behind the lit letters is a team of CEOs, COOs, and marketing personnel who have been planning this event since November. In addition, the GRTC’s maintenance team cleaned the buses and prepped their screens with these announcements’ codes in time for their release at 4:40 a.m. on February 4th.
Black History Month may not be the only time GRTC pays homage to Richmond’s sundry set of history makers, says Pace. “It’s important as a community to promote how diverse we are and to see how all the pieces come together – this month is a good launching pad for future projects.”
Although plans are in formulation to recognize next year’s history-makers, Pace urges everyone to e-mail suggestions and to share stories of Richmond's forgotten freedom fighters: firstname.lastname@example.org.