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Muni declines Rosa Parks memorial seat honor

The city may honor Parks and other civil rights figures through bus art instead

A black and white photo of Rosa Parks being arrested and fingerprinted in 1956.
Photo by Associated Press

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) says that it intends to honor American civil rights icon Rosa Parks on its buses, but not by following the suggestion of District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who wants the city to symbolically reserve a seat for Parks aboard Muni coaches.

Walton pitched the tribute in February, citing an email from a constituent and the examples of other cities, like San Joaquin, that have marked seats on their buses in Parks’ honor.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the SFMTA board, SFMTA Director of Communications Candace Sue declined the suggestion but pitched a separate idea to board members, saying that the city could highlight Parks’ story through art on buses and through social media.

“We appreciated this idea and thought it was a really great time” for it, said Sue. “We’re proposing that we do a little bit more than mark a seat for her, we’re proposing a campaign that talks about her and encourages the public to ride.”

Sue suggested that during March—Women’s History Month—Muni buses display images of Parks alongside the slogan “Ride With Rosa” and messages encouraging San Franciscans to “Ride Muni in her honor.”

Initial design for imagery that may appear on buses.
Image courtesy of SFMTA

Parks had no relationship to San Francisco or to Muni, although her defiance in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus eventually led to a Supreme Court decision doing away with racial segregation on all public transit.

Sue said the potentially pending campaign would also highlight the work of women from San Francisco who contributed to transit equity, including Charlotte Brown, the woman who in 1863 challenged segregation on horse drawn streetcars in SF.

In 2013, Cal Humanities dubbed Brown “the Rosa Parks of San Francisco.”

Also up for transit honorariums is Mary Ellen Pleasant, the San Francisco abolitionist who took a case against streetcar segregation to the California Supreme Court.

In response to the news, Supervisor Walton declared, “In my opinion Muni refuses to honor Rosa Parks in an appropriate manner” and promised to “keep pushing” for a seat for Parks.