Dating back to the 1896 Plessy Supreme Court decision, which established the separate-but-equal doctrine, racial segregation had become the “southern solution” to the problem of the races.
On Dec. 1, 1955, 58 years ago, Rosa Parks was arrested and convicted for violating a Montgomery, Ala. law for segregated seating on buses. By 1955, the 42-year-old Parks had joined the NAACP, becoming involved in the civil rights issues and was working as a seamstress at a shirt factory in Montgomery.
And on that afternoon when Rose parks boarded a bus in downtown Montgomery, sitting in the section reserved for whites, Mrs. Parks “had made up her mind to never move again,” serving notice that she wanted to claim her legal rights. She later said, “It was time for someone to stand up or, in my case, to sit down.” This simple act of dignity and courage would change America, helping to fulfill the vision of equality for all. It would also end the humiliation of segregation.
The subsequent arrest of Mrs. Parks stirred the black community in Montgomery, leading to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association with Dr. Martin Luther King as president. After several mass meetings, blacks were asked not to ride the buses to work, to town, to school or anywhere, thus launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott, campaigning to end segregation.
Armed with non-violence and patience, the boycott organizers engaged in fundraisings, organized carpools and conducted weekly church meetings, with much of Montgomery coming out in support of Mrs. Parks.
Finally, in December 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s laws requiring segregation on buses was unconstitutional. So, what stared out as just another arrest proved to be anything but another arrest.
Later, Rosa Parks left Montgomery, moving to Detroit where she served on Congressman John Conyers’ staff for 23 years. In 1990 she met with Nelson Mandela during a rally in Detroit. And in 1999, President Clinton recognized Mrs. Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the highest honor awarded to an American civilian. Rosa Parks died at the age of 92 on Oct. 24, 2005.
During a February 2013 celebration honoring Mrs. Parks’ legacy with a life-size statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, PresidentObama stated, “But we can do no greater honor than to remember and to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.”
Today, as we remember Rosa Parks, some might remember her affectionately as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” breaking down barriers to our evolving democracy. Others might recall an individual who compelled our nation to put its cherished ideals into practice. Still, others might reflect on the person whose acts of dignity and courage and whose quiet strength changed the nation and the world.
Indeed, Mrs. Parks made the world a better place.
Let us summon enough courage and determination to continue the pursuit of “justice for all” and a more perfect union.