Parks was a passenger on a crowded Cleveland Avenue bus on Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused an order by a white bus driver to give her seat up to a white passenger who had entered the crowded bus. After being threatened with arrest, Parks refused again and was arrested. She was jailed and fined for violating Montgomery’s segregation laws.
Her act of defiance set off the Montgomery bus boycott in December 1955. The boycott stunned the whites of Montgomery and their city officials. The nearly 13-month boycott would eventually lead to desegregation of the city’s public transit system, a major victory at that time. More important, the modern civil rights movement began that day, and a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. was propelled into the spotlight.
Rosa Parks was more than some historical accident. In fact, she prepared for her moment in history for years. Parks was serving as volunteer field secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1955. She also served on the Women’s Political Council in the city, an organization that had been out front seeking equal rights for blacks. In addition,
Upon her death om 2005, Parks’ coffin was placed in the U.S. Capitol rotunda for two days. More than 30,000 people paid their respects. National leaders spoke at her funeral, including then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Now called “the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” Rosa Parks resisted such labels. She always said she was just trying to do what was right. She also said her act never had anything to do with being physically tired.
“The only tired I was,” Parks remarked years later, was “tired of giving in.” She was an extraordinary human being, and we’re all in her debt.
Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project. Web site: www.progressive.org.