Posted on March 30, 2011

Sit or Stand? Rosa Parks Isn’t in Her Best-Known Position in New MTA Sculpture

Ron Fonger, Flint Journal, March 28, 2011

Rosa Parks became the mother of the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

But Parks is shown standing–not seated–in a new sculpture that was quietly unveiled Friday at the downtown Flint Mass Transportation Authority bus station.

Sculptor Anthony Frudakis’ bronze statue depicts Parks in a standing position, wearing glasses, a purse over her shoulder, clutching a pair of gloves. It’s a less commonly seen pose than those showing Parks sitting down, refusing to leave her seat, as she did on Dec. 1, 1955.

“The only way to show her is sitting in a bus seat–especially (when the sculpture is) in a bus station,” said John Pryor of Grand Blanc Township. “(That sitting position) tells everything–the whole story.”

Pryor, 72, said he’s looked at many other depictions of Parks, and was among those who waited in line for the opportunity to see her casket after her death in 2005. He said that having Parks seated makes it easier to explain her story to children.

“To me, I don’t think we’re teaching our African American kids their history,” he said.

Pryor isn’t alone. There were similar questions when a statute of Parks, sculpted by a different artist, was dedicated in Grand Rapids last year, and Frances Gilcreast, president of the Flint branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she had heard standing-versus-sitting comments even before the statue was unveiled.

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Others who saw the sculpture Friday were mixed in opinions of what they saw.

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MTA employee Kay White said she wasn’t impressed by what she saw.

“They kept it in a box for two years and it looks nothing like her,” White said.

The unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue comes five years after the MTA agreed to contract with the Greater Flint Arts Council to secure and deliver various types of artwork with a civil rights theme as part of a renovation of the bus station.

The sculpture of Parks has been considered the centerpiece of the collection, but even though it was delivered to the bus station nearly two years ago, it had been left in a wood crate until Friday.

MTA and Arts Council officials have said they ran into unexpected delays because of citizen complaints about some of the artwork being placed in restrooms and because some artists weren’t able to complete some of the pieces they agreed to.

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