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Bus refurbished in Elma to teach history Vehicle will convey civil rights lessons in Rochester area

A 1950s bus that had a supporting part in a recent film, but might have had an earlier role in the civil rights movement, left Elma on a flatbed trailer Thursday for the short trip to Rochester, where it will become a rolling classroom on the struggle for equality.

It is not the bus that Rosa Parks boarded in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, and then made history by refusing to move to the blacks-only section in the rear. That particular icon now resides in Detroit's Henry Ford Museum.

But it is the same General Motors model Parks rode, was in service in Montgomery at the same time and has been turned into a replica of No. 2857 at Gorman Enterprises, a Bullis Road company that custom-designs buses, trucks and other vehicles.

The work was commissioned by Van Henri White, a 45-year-old lawyer who established the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights in downtown Rochester.

Getting schoolchildren from districts outside the city to visit the museum has been difficult, so White plans to take the museum to them in the form of the retired 38-passenger bus, which has been painted in the green, yellow and white colors of the 1950s Montgomery City Lines fleet and has the Cleveland Avenue line sign above the front window.

Volunteers will drive the bus to different schools. Students will come out of their social studies classes and get on the bus, some wearing black armbands and the others white armbands. Those with black bands will sit in the back and those with white will sit in the front, so all of them can see how the South's Jim Crow laws actually worked.

Students will watch a video about the civil rights era.

"I want students -- black and white, city and suburban -- to have a foundation in the American civil rights movement," said White, 45, a Rochester native and Georgetown University Law School graduate.

His search for the genuine 1950s Montgomery bus ended this summer in Mississauga, Ont., outside Toronto. The vehicle had been left to rust in a field after it was used in the filming of "Hairspray," starring John Travolta.

A team headed by Nicole Casey, Gorman Enterprise graphic designer, re-created the exterior from pictures of the Rosa Parks bus taken at the Ford museum. LTR Rigging & Hauling of Cheektowaga moved the bus to Rochester.

White, who was elected to the Rochester School Board in January, said he does not know how much the venture is costing.

"I haven't kept track, but it's totally on my dime," he said. "I'm paying for it through my civil rights cases."


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