This story was originally shared on Southwest Airlines’ internal channels by Director Community Outreach Laura Nieto and Vice President Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Juan Suarez.
Rosa Parks, one of the soft-spoken champions of the Civil Rights movement, passed away 16 years ago this weekend, on October 24, 2005. At the time, the nation, as a whole, seemed to rise in her honor.
The United States Senate—in a display of political unity—unanimously approved a resolution honoring her achievements. Newspapers across the country filled editorial pages with heartfelt remembrances. Various organizations and universities staged public tributes. And in Montgomery, Alabama, and Detroit, city officials cordoned off the front seats of their city buses in her memory.
Amid this dramatic outpouring of support, civil rights leaders sought to organize one final farewell for a true American hero: an ambitious multi-day, multi-city procession of Mrs. Parks’ body before it was laid to rest. They reached out to Southwest Airlines to aid in this effort.
The Company considered it an honor to provide Mrs. Parks the homecoming she deserved and knew precisely the man who should captain the flight: (now retired) Chief Pilot Lou Freeman. Joining Lou would be a diverse Crew, including Captain Richard Turner and First Officer Trevor Hinton, as well as Inflight Supervisors Yolanda Gabriel, Rita Tubilleja, and Renee Gordon.
Captain Lou Freeman, second from right, poses with the Flight Crew for the final flight of Rosa Parks. On the left is Captain Richard Turner, and on the right is First Officer Trevor Hinton. Behind them are Inflight Supervisors Yolanda Gabriel, Rita Tubilleja, and Renee Gordon.What none of these Crewmembers could fully anticipate, however, was just how profound of an experience the journey would turn out to be.
Captain Lou Freeman, left, and Captain Richard Turner with the casket of Rosa Parks.It had been in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, that Mrs. Parks—then a 42-year-old seamstress—was arrested and fined $10 plus $4 in court costs for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus. “My feet were not hurting,” said Parks years later. “I was tired in a different way.”
Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955.Yet it was that righteous fatigue—channeled by a woman who showed the courage to make a vital stand—that helped galvanize a movement to transform a nation. As we remember the inspirational life of Mrs. Parks today and celebrate Southwest Airlines’ 50th Anniversary this year, we’re deeply honored that our Company’s history and Mrs. Parks’ legacy intersected in 2005. As we look to the Company’s next 50 years and beyond, we’re committed to supporting our diverse communities and continuing to support the notion that gave Mrs. Parks the courage to remain seated—racial equality for all.
Want to learn more about Mrs. Parks’ final procession, the unique ways Southwest Airlines was able to honor this civil rights hero, and the impact the journey made on the Crew?
Hear from retired Chief Pilot Lou Freeman himself about how much this experience meant to him on Episode 18 of the podcast series, “Is This Seat Open?”
*Southwest Airlines would like to thank the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, whom the Company partnered with in 2005. It was truly an honor for Southwest to serve Mrs. Parks, her family, and the Black community in this way, and we thank the Institute for the rights to commemorate this moment in Southwest and U.S. history.