Before Rosa Parks, there was Sarah Keys; now there will be a monument commemorating her in Roanoke Rapids

Friday, July 31, 2020
Sarah Keys to be honored in Roanoke Rapids park
Nestled in MLK Park, the city of Roanoke Rapids will honor civil rights activist Sarah Keys Evans, a Black woman who refused to give up her seat to a white Marine back in 1952.

ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. (WTVD) -- We were all taught the story of Rosa Parks, the mother of The Freedom Movement but a new mural in Roanoke Rapids tells the journey of Sarah Keys Evans.

"She never did get the credit. She was caught up in the moment Rosa Parks was caught up in the movement and that made the difference," said Dr. Charles McCollum Sr. of the Sarah Keys Evans project.

It was 1952 when Evans boarded a bus for Washington, NC. The soldier was on leave from Fort Dix and was headed to see her parents. It was a long trip, so she took the most comfortable seat she could find and within the parameters of the law up north.

"If you originate your journey in the north whatever seat you took, you could take to your destination. So she knew the law-except they changed drivers when they got to Roanoke Rapids. And she got this rude awakening.

The new bus driver demanded Evans give up her seat to a white Marine. When she refused, she was taken into police custody.

"She was traumatized by the experience as much as she never sat down that whole night. She spent 13 hours pacing the floor," said Dr. McCollum.

Evans would spend even more time, three years to be exact, taking a stand in court against the Interstate Commerce Commission.

"She ultimately won her case. She should've been renowned for her stands. Especially the impact afterward because it opened up interstate travel from the north for Black people especially," said Dr. McCollum.

These days Evans is being honored. Nestled in MLK Park in Roanoke Rapids, a mural made possible through a $50,000 grant takes visitors from the bus to her breakthrough, inspiring others to do the same

"I'm hoping that not only older people, my generation but that the millennials will know and appreciate and know 'I've gotta get active'," said Ophelia Gould-Faison, organizer.

The Sarah Keys Evans project will be unveiled during a weekend ceremony streamed to Facebook and online. There's also a virtual tour available on the website.