By Coshandra Dillard
City officials and other Tyler residents gathered Thursday to pay tribute to Rosa Parks, affectionately known as the mother of the civil rights movement. Dec. 1 marked the 61st anniversary of Parks’ infamous arrest after she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, leading to the Montgomery, Ala. bus boycott and furthering the movement.
“We’re so thankful Rosa Parks took a stand to stay in her seat,” said Bishop David Houston, pastor of Smith Temple Church of God in Christ. “Because of her, we are still standing.”
People heard about the history of Parks from actress VirLinda Stanton and had an opportunity to watch a documentary about the civil rights icon on a parked bus.
The event, organized by the Tyler Transit Department and St. James CME Church, merged the history of the civil rights movement with the cultural history of North Tyler.
Groups of attendees filed onto another Tyler Transit bus in 30-minute intervals for a tour around parts of North Tyler. As tour guides, Houston and Rev. Orenthia Mason recounted their days growing up there, and their commentary was dotted with shouts and laughs while reminiscing about the happenings in the area near Palace Avenue known as The Cut or at their beloved Emmett J. Scott High School.
The tour took passengers through neighborhoods that holds historical landmarks and onto the Texas College campus where they heard some history about the school, built in 1894, from President Dwight Fennell.
Mason—pastor of the 125-year-old St. James CME Church who grew up on 27th street—listed numerous businesses that were vibrant before integration, including a clothing store, beauty college, theater, grocery stores, and restaurants.
While segregation kept North Tyler residents from freely moving around south of Bow Street, it produced a self-sufficient and close-knit community.
The tour guides spoke of excellence in its once thriving institutions, their pride, and a sense of community that was woven into each household.
“Because we weren’t able to go outside of the community, everything we needed was in the neighborhood,” Mason said. “This was our community. You felt safe. You didn’t fear for your life.”