Opened in 2000, the Troy University Rosa Parks Museum celebrates the life and legacy of civil rights activist Rosa Parks and her efforts in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It is located on the first floor of the Troy University Rosa Parks Library and Museum on Troy's Montgomery campus. The museum was constructed on the site of the former Empire Theatre in downtown Montgomery, Montgomery County, where Rosa Parks made her historic stand in 1955 at the bus stop in front of the theater. The museum's six exhibit areas and Children's Wing tell the story of these early civil rights activists.
Troy University purchased the property on which the museum now stands, intending to build a parking deck on the corner. Two buildings, including the theater, were torn down when they were determined to be too compromised to restore. However, when Troy University officials began to notice people standing on the corner to read the historical marker about Rosa Parks's arrest, they decided that the corner was too historically significant to erect a parking deck and began thinking of ways to use the property to both serve the university community and honor Parks. They settled upon the idea to build a museum and library, and raised private donations, federal grant money, and foundation money. The museum opened on December 1, 2000, the 45th anniversary of Parks's arrest.
The museum consists of six main areas and the Children's Wing. Exhibits provide visitors with information on important events in civil rights history and allow them to immerse themselves in Parks's experience on the bus and hear the personal testimonials of many participants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Upon entering the Orientation area, visitors are briefed on the historical context of the boycott as well as background on the life of Rosa Parks. The Bus Room features a period bus as well as the fingerprint machine and original arrest record from Parks's arrest and a ten-minute multimedia reenactment of the events of December 1, 1955. The third area features a façade of the Holt Street Baptist church, where the first organizational meetings of the boycott, led by Martin Luther King Jr., took place. Area 4 recreates the room in which city leaders and boycott organizers attempted to work out their differences over a two-month period. Area 5 takes the visitor through the organizing of transportation for those taking part in the boycott so that they could continue to get to their jobs. It features a fully restored 1955 Chevy Bel Air Station Wagon, which represents the Rolling Church Buses, as they were known, used in the effort. Area 6, called the Victory Room, features exhibits that recount the day that Fred Gray, Glenn Smile, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ralph Abernathy rode on a city bus in the two front seats.
In the Children's Wing, visitors enter the Cleveland Avenue Time Machine, which appears as an exaggerated version of a standard 1955 Montgomery city bus enhanced by an array of imposing equipment, lighting effects, glowing pipes, and fog. Visitors approach the bus entrance door along a railed walkway and are transported from 1955 Montgomery, where people are waiting to catch a bus, back to the nineteenth century, where they observe scenes of segregation and social and legal challenges made by individuals such as Dred Scott, Harriet Tubman, and Homer Plessy. They end their journey back in 1955 Montgomery with the same people about to board their bus.
Visitors may also visit the second-floor Research Center, where they can learn much more about the legal and social challenges relating to the Bus Boycott and also learn about the various legal events that helped reshape the way U.S. citizens thought about discrimination and segregation during the twentieth century. The museum also has an interactive map kiosk that details other civil rights sites in Alabama. Throughout the museum, visitors are encouraged to gain understanding of how important historical events are created by the people engaged in them, rather than taking the view that history "just happens." Through the stories of E. D. Nixon, Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Fred Gray, and many others, visitors are shown how they can take action to change things as well.
The museum is a part of Troy University and is a non-profit institution under the Troy Foundation. The day-to-day operations are administered by the museum's director. The museum employs seven people, including a scheduler, gift shop manager, and tour guides. Annual events include a December 1 Anniversary celebration and February 4 Rosa Parks Birthday Event as well as the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award and Lecture. Visitors to the facility average about 55,000 visitors a year.