Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks takes her seat at the front of the bus.
Media Caption
Today we celebrate the birthday of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and Transit Equity Day.

Honoring the legacy of Rosa Parks on her birthday and Transit Equity Day

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Civil rights icon Rosa Parks was born on Feb. 4, 1913.

Today, we celebrate Transit Equity Day – a national day of action to commemorate Parks’ birthday and declare that public transit is a civil right.

She was a giant of a woman, but she had such a humble way of doing her work.

Many know the story of Rosa Parks: she was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus – sparking a successful boycott to demand an end to segregation in the Montgomery, Alabama transit system.

She became famous for her act of defiance on Dec. 1, 1955, though she continued her work in civil rights education and advocacy throughout her life.

When she was 83 years old, Parks embarked on a 40-city tour that lasted 381 days – the same length of time as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Seattle was one stop on the tour, and Sound Transit Chief Labor Relations Officer Leslie Jones had a chance to meet Parks while she was in town.

A framed photo of Leslie Jones, Jones' husband and Rosa Parks sitting on a couch.
Sound Transit Chief Labor Relations Officer Leslie Jones (right) keeps a photograph in her office of when she and her husband met Rosa Parks.

Jones said it was an honor to meet the “mother of civil rights.”

“[Parks] believed that people should not be mistreated based on the color of their skin,” Jones said. “To sit there and have dinner with such a civil rights warrior made me feel hopeful, particularly as a person of color and a woman.”

Jones recalls Parks as “centered;” “a person of dignity and self-respect;” and someone who made her want to be a role model for other Black women.

“She was a giant of a woman, but she had such a humble way of doing her work,” Jones said. “I was struck by her grace. I was struck by how courageous and brave she was. And I was inspired and motivated by her real commitment to the idea that people should be treated fairly. It’s so simple, but we still struggle with it today.”

Jones said she joined Sound Transit because she saw an opportunity to impact peoples’ lives.

“All of us have the ability to make a difference – not just in big ways, but in small ways too,” she said.

Leslie Jones sits at a table wearing a green coat. Two other women are seated next to her and across from her.
Leslie Jones works to make sure Sound Transit's workforce reflects the communities we serve.

Jones said she was “humbled and thrilled” later in her career to receive several awards named after the “mother of civil rights.”  

“One of the things I learned from Rosa Louise McCauley Parks is that we cannot let fear stop us from doing the right thing,” she said. “We have to identify what is right and what is not acceptable. And we saw that by way of all of the people who got into the streets for George Floyd.”

Shortly after the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery last summer, Sound Transit committed to continuing our work on equity and inclusion, and to becoming an anti-racist organization.

“We have to stand up for ourselves and for each other, and for the world we want to live in,” Jones said.

Sound Transit recently launched a new rider campaign, “All Aboard,” to address acts of racism and harassment, and to help all riders feel welcome and supported while using our service.

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