How Rosa Parks statue found home in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The statute of Rosa Parks in downtown Grand Rapids is entering its 10th year in 2020, and on Thursday, News 8 sat down with the man who helped shepherd the project through to completion. 

Armond Robinson says Park’s message is needed now even more than when it was dedicated. 

“It’s united folks of color. We’re moving forward, we stand up for Rosa and we’re moving forward,” Robinson said.

He was born in Detroit in 1929 and came to Grand Rapids to work for Lear Corporation 50 years ago and retired from Herman Miller. 

As a 26-year-old in 1955, he was acutely aware of the impact of Park’s quiet protest in Montgomery, Alabama, when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. 

Always civic minded, Robinson was appointed to the city’s community relations board. 

“I approached, initiated, requested, started action to put the lady there, where she is,” Robinson said. 

The Rosa Parks Circle name had been there for nine years, but there was nothing to say who Rosa Parks was. 

They raised $370,000 to erect and maintain the monument from some of the most prominent members of Grand Rapids businesses and society. 

“I remain very proud of having initiated the idea and gotten the support from so many points,” Robinson said. 

Ed Dwight, America’s first black astronaut, designed the statue — the first statue of a person of color in the city. 

“Rosa Parks was famous for her seated resistance. You notice she is standing, and our premise was ‘We stand up for Rosa Parks,’” Robinson said. “We stand up for what? Well, it’s more than diversity.”   

For more than nine years, Grand Rapids had the only statue of Rosa Parks where she was standing until December when another statute was unveiled in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Robinson says the message of Rosa Parks is needed now more than ever. 

“The environment that’s so heavily on us at this time, more so than I’ve seen any time in my 90 years — the racism that’s very prevalent,” Robinson said. 

That standing statue is a symbol of resistance that continues. 

“You can kick, but we’re still fighting and that’s the message,” Robinson said. 

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is offering the Black History Walking Tour for free on Saturday at noon. More information can be found on its website and Facebook page.

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