The monument stands at the heart of downtown Montgomery, Ala., where Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955.
A Florida A&M University (FAMU) history professor served as the model for a Rosa Parks sculpture unveiled in Montgomery, Ala., on the 64th anniversary of the day Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus.
Former Miss FAMU Kimberly Brown Pellum, Ph.D., was the model for a statue of Parks, whose act of civil disobedience sparked the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“It was a tremendous honor,” said Brown Pellum. “I really can’t put into words what it means for me.”
An assistant professor of history in the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Brown Pellum was working at the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University in Montgomery last summer when the sculptor Clydetta Fulmer asked Museum Director Felicia Bell, Ph.D., to recommend a model to help her create a monument to the late civil rights icon.
Fulmer needed a model who was the approximate age of Parks at the time of the 1955 bus boycott. The woman should be at least 5 feet 3 inches, but it would be helpful if she were a little taller and shared Parks’ general description. Brown Pellum did.
After Fulmer contacted Brown Pellum, the artist took photographs and measurements; Brown Pellum pulled her hair into a bun like Parks and put on a dress similar to those worn by Parks. Fulmer even obtained some 1950s women’s shoes from the local Shakespeare Festival company.
Trying to get Parks’ distinctive hairstyle was one of the trickiest aspects of the project, Fulmer said. She looked at Life Magazine photographs from the day Parks took her victory ride on the Montgomery public bus to decide the hairstyle for the monument. She also got help from an 86-year-old Montgomery hairdresser who used to style Coretta Scott King’s hair in the 1950s.
The sculptor usually takes a year to complete a monument. She didn’t have that much time. The monument committee needed to have the sculpture ready in six months for the Dec.1 ceremony.
On Sunday, Brown Pellum joined Montgomery’s first African-American Mayor, Steven Reed, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and other dignitaries at the ceremony.
“It was really special,” she said. “I was born and raised in Montgomery. Mrs. Parks was central to my learning experiences as a child.”
Serving as the model for the sculpture will have a profound impact on Brown Pellum’s work inside and outside the classroom.
“Mrs. Parks’ work is central to everything I teach. This moment was symbolic of all I hope for in preserving Black women’s stories,” she said. “No one can ever again walk past that spot without acknowledging her. And I got to be a part of it. It’s truly a dream, but also a profound reminder that we all have an unending role in safeguarding and narrating the journeys of our ancestors.”