Fifty-five years ago this week, on December 1, 1955, a tired seamstress took a stand … by refusing to do so.
Rosa Parks was 42-years-old when she boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama with a bag of groceries. She’d worked all day and was tired and ready to be home. She noted the bus driver, a man named Blake. They’d had disagreements before, and she’d been removed from his bus in the past. She generally tired to avoid him whenever possible. She paid and took a seat in the middle of the bus, at the front of the ‘black section’. She relaxed. Her day was almost over.
Montgomery was a very different town in 1955 than it is now. Home of the brief Confederate presidency of Jefferson Davis, the town accepted racism as a part of its life and heritage. African-Americans weren’t allowed to enter many restaurants or churches, attend school with white children or even drink from the same water fountain as whites. They lived in a separate society, one that was less than that of the white families that many of them worked for.
When a white man entered the already full bus, he walked to the front row of the blacks section and ordered Rosa Parks to move to the back of the bus. She refused. Bus-driver Blake did as he’d been told to do by his superiors: he called the police and had her arrested.
Mrs. Parks was not the first black person to refuse such an order. She was not the first arrested for breaking that particular law. But the sight of her mug-shot, a mild, middle-aged woman, seemed to spark the city. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., then a minister for Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, took action. He used the incident with Parks to begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days. It ended with a US Supreme Court decision that the law was illegal and focused nation-wide attention to the unfairness of segregation.
Parks changed the face of the US. She certainly changed Montgomery, Alabama. There are tributes scattered throughout the city in her honor. Besides two streets named for her, Parks’ name graces a branch of the public library, a Church of God and, yes, a city park. It is in that park where the most obvious sign of her influence is seen. In a park named for the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”, children of all colors play side by side without fear or separation.
Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1996 and continued to speak at meetings into her 80’s. She passed away in 2005. She was 92.