February 4th was the birthday of Civil rights icon Rosa Parks. We honor her and her story. How a single act of defiance changed the world and empowered a generation.
By simply staying seated Rosa parks stood up for thousands of African-Americans who were being treated harshly due to an unjust law. Like many black women in Montgomery Alabama in the 1950s, Ms. Parks worked by day as a seamstress would take the bus home in the evenings after work. At the time the law stated that if a white patron wanted her seat she was obliged to surrender her place. Blacks were also required to use the bus’ back door and to seat themselves in the rear of the vehicle. This wasn’t the only form of segregation at the time. Blacks had to use separate drinking fountains, restaurants, and attend different schools.
Thursday, December 1st, 1955 was in many ways an ordinary day for Rosa. She had put in a long day at her job and was riding home on the bus. That evening the bus was especially crowded and the driver ordered the black patrons on the first row of the “colored section” to vacate their seats for some white customers who didn’t have seats. Three of the four immediately complied but not Rosa Parks. this was not the first time Rosa and the bus driver had interacted. He had yelled at her a few days before after she entered the bus through the “white’s door”. that time she chose to take another bus to avoid further confrontation. But not this time. The driver yelled at her to move. She calmly said, “I refuse”. The driver radioed the police and she was arrested.
Word of the arrest spread throughout Montgomery and the NAACP felt they had found the perfect person to make a case against the injustice of the segregation laws. It was decided that in protest of the arrest blacks would boycott the city buses. Mostly by word of mouth and through the churches, the black community in Montgomery became aware of the boycott. with the help of a then 26-year-old Martin Luther King, the boycott would last a year. during that time many of the city’s black were forced to travel long distances by foot. those who had cars would also rideshare. Ms. Parks appealed her conviction and eventually, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In November of 1956, the High Court ruled the bus law unconstitutional. This was the first of many victories for the Civil Rights Movement. But the victory was not without resistance. Rosa Parks had been fired from her job and received death threats almost daily. Dr. King’s home was also firebombed. Eventually, the Parks’ family moved to Detroit, Michigan.
Rosa Parks lived to the age of 92. When she died in 2005, she became the first women in history to lie in state under the rotunda of the US Capitol. She will forever be remembered for being “The Mother of the modern Civil Rights Movement.”