The reason Rosa Parks stands in downtown Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Why is Rosa Parks standing in front of the bus seat which she famously refused to give up? That's a question that has come up frequently about the statue of the civil rights hero that graces the entrance to Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. Ed Dwight designed the statue that the city installed in 2010, and has specific, meaningful reasons for why he portrayed Parks standing defiantly in front of her seat.

"Most of the images I've seen of her show her sitting down, this very pitiful woman in a seat, and artists have depicted her as horribly insipid-looking," explained Dwight.

Parks was only about five feet tall, a very small woman, and he believes it's difficult to show her sitting down. Dwight said he doesn't want people to remember her in a small way.

"I wanted people to remember her as a kind of monumental historical figure, rather than this little woman that everyone felt sorry for," he said. Dwight used to be an astronaut. He is now 82 years old, lives in Colorado, and believes strongly in educating future generations about prominent black Americans, but he is not necessarily someone you might have expected to follow that course.

He was the first African American astronaut and he didn't know anything about black history until he was 42 years old.

"I went to white schools all the way through and I didn't know who Rosa Parks was, or Harriet Tubman, I had no idea who all these people were," Dwight said.

It was the first black lt. governor of Colorado who changed the course of his life when he gave Dwight a stack of books on black history and asked him to travel the country, studying monuments, sculptures and memorials of African Americans.

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