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King's legacy resonates with artistic symbolism Bus seats represent leader's inspiration to end segregation

Claudette Colvin was arrested in 1955 for not giving up her bus seat to a white person, nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested for the same thing.

Monday, Colvin was in Buffalo commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as were Jewish students at Kadimah School, young people from the West Seneca Youth Bureau who served the needy and youngsters from the King Urban Life Center who re-enacted key moments in the civil rights movement.

They were among Western New Yorkers from all walks of life who celebrated the national holiday in memory of the slain civil rights leader.

One of the day's highlights was a program in Durham Memorial Church on Eagle Street, where hundreds attended the program featuring Colvin and Sam McKenzie, an artist who launched a national volunteer art project.

On that March day in Montgomery, Ala., Colvin was coming home from Booker T. Washington High School, where she was a student. She boarded the bus at the same stop where Parks would embark months later. She took a seat near the emergency exit, and, after a few stops, four white men boarded, and the driver ordered her -- along with three other black passengers -- to get up. She refused, was handcuffed and was forcibly removed from the bus. She was charged with violating a city ordinance, disorderly conduct and assault. Her sentence was probation.

"I remember the cell door didn't close automatically. The guard had a key, and I remember the clanking of the key," Colvin said. "That's when it came over me, 'OK, I'm in trouble.' "

The next year, Colvin was a plaintiff with one teenager and two adult women in the U.S. Supreme Court case Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation in Montgomery.

McKenzie, another featured speaker, created "A Seat for Social Justice," a volunteer art project in which local artists and community members artistically transform salvaged bus seats into symbols of the civil rights movement.

The idea for the project -- which began in Atlanta -- came to McKenzie after the October 2005 death of Parks. Since then, it has become a national project, with installments in schools, libraries and other institutions in Buffalo, as well as 14 cities in other states.
The bus seat artworks are tentatively scheduled to be displayed at 13 sites throughout Western New York, including the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum, the National Federation for Just Communities on Delaware Avenue and Buffalo State College's Student Union.

"The bus seat is such an iconic symbol," McKenzie said. "The civil rights movement was built around and launched onto the national stage by the bus boycott."

Groups such as the Response to Love Center on Kosciuszko Street and the King Urban Life Center on Genesee Street also participated in King Day events coordinated by West Seneca AmeriCorps.

At the Response to Love Center, young adult volunteers from the West Seneca Youth Bureau ran the center's soup kitchen, food pantry and thrift store for the day.

"I always like to come out and help," said 20-year-old Buffalo State College student Eric Kraft, who was cooking and serving food in the soup kitchen. "I realize what Martin Luther King did for this country, and I just decided to come here because I wanted to help."

It was the first time volunteering on King Day for Cleveland Hill seventh-grader Matt Lanning, who helped in the soup kitchen. Lanning was the youngest volunteer at the center Monday.

"I just wanted to do something for the community," said Alla Sukaly, 15, who was with the West Seneca Youth Bureau.

And at Kadimah School in Amherst, the Bethlehem Youth Choir and the Bennett High School Players were guests. Students gave presentations on figures in civil rights history.


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