Wellesley Alum Prompts Massachusetts Leaders to Honor Rosa Parks on MBTA Buses

A MBTA bus with a sticker of Rosa Parks by the door.
March 5, 2019

In December 1955, a bus driver in Montgomery, Ala., ordered Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white passenger. Parks’ refusal helped spark the Montgomery bus boycott and mobilize the civil rights movement.

Last year, Natalie Ornell ’12 began working to convince elected officials in Massachusetts to direct the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to honor the civil rights icon on its roughly 1,000 buses. In January, her efforts paid off: Governor Charlie Baker signed the Rosa Parks Transportation Bill, which requires all buses to display a decal bearing her image.

In an email, Ornell praised the teamwork and contributions of community members and leaders, including State Sen. Walter Timilty, who filed the bill.

"Remember Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott"Ornell, a graduate student at Lesley University studying to be a teacher, was inspired to lobby for the decals when she spotted a Rosa Parks decal on a bus while on vacation in Miami. She thought Boston should follow suit, and she said she’s happy that MBTA buses will now carry Parks’ likeness. “It was wonderful to see that the hard work of so many people in the community led to this outcome,” she said in an email.

Steven Poftak, MBTA general manager, mentioned the decal at the MBTA’s fiscal management control board meeting in Boston in early February. Poftak said that at the meeting, he was pleased to announce the MBTA’s efforts to recognize Parks as well as express “my appreciation to our workforce, who were able to get these stickers up in all the buses in time for Black History Month.”

The WGBH radio show Under the Radar, hosted by Callie Crossley ’73, featured Ornell on February 8; she spoke about the decal honoring Parks.

“I think that there should be education around the decal and also around Boston’s own busing history…it’s been erased for so many generations,” said Ornell, who appeared with Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston Branch, and State Rep. Russell E. Holmes.

“I think this is an opportunity to discuss all the issues going on in Boston with our schools, with the T [MBTA], and in our workplaces,” she said. “I think the discussion can keep going. It’s never going away.”