Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett; Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed; Col. Eries Mentzer, 42nd Air Base Wing commander; Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative founder and director; and several other dignitaries were on hand for the unveiling of the Rosa Parks sculpture, created by Ian Mangum, a 42nd Force Support Squadron team member.
“Sixty-five years ago today, a woman about my age refused to give up her seat on a city bus in protest of segregated transportation in Montgomery. That woman was Mrs. Rosa L. Parks,” Mentzer said. “She was not tired, she was tired of giving in. Her moral courage in that moment sparked a movement that changed our nation for the better.”
Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is a well-known part of American history; however, lesser-known is that she worked as a seamstress in lodging on Maxwell Field in the 1940s.
“Today, we salute Ms. Rosa Parks, once as a civilian member of the United States Army Air Corps and forever a civil rights icon,” Barrett said. “On that cold December 1st, the diminutive, bespeckled, 42-year-old Rosa Parks took a stand by keeping her seat. Her simple ‘no’ sparked a movement for equanimity in America.”
During her time on Maxwell Field, Parks and her husband, Raymond, who worked at the military barbershop, experienced integrated public spaces and transportation while suffering segregation in the local community. In her memoir, Parks stated, “You might just say Maxwell opened my eyes up. It was an alternative to the ugly policies of Jim Crow.”
The event marks the start of a 382-day partnership between Maxwell AFB and the city of Montgomery. The partnership’s aim is to focus on diversity and inclusion so everyone can “rise to their best,” Mentzer said. To make this possible, she formed the Freedom to Serve Initiative, a team of Airmen whose goal is to identify and find solutions to obstacles that may impede Airmen’s success.
“It’s an honor to commemorate such a courageous woman whose act of courage and life of activism led to many of the accomplishments and things we take for granted today,” Reed said. “We hope that by partnering with Maxwell Air Force Base for the next 382 days, we can share in ways that we can all be more inclusive and we can all do things to match … to live up to … the legacy and responsibility of Ms. Rosa Parks.”
Beyond Maxwell AFB and Montgomery, Parks’ legacy has served as an inspiration for Airmen worldwide, and the Air Force is proud to consider her a part of the family.
“Rosa Parks began the modern civil rights movement in the United States in 1955, and she changed the course of history,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command, who watched the event via live stream. “Her courage and conviction were an inspiration to us all, and remind me how important it is for leadership to continue having difficult conversations that lead to lasting change in our organization. History will judge how we respond to current events, and I can’t think of a better role model than Rosa Parks to help us improve. This memorial is a fitting tribute to her American legacy.”