The segregation laws that had prevailed in the American South since the end of the Civil War were grotesque, immoral, barbaric and surely unconstitutional.
One such law required black people in Montgomery, Alabama to sit in the back of the city’s buses and, when the buses were crowded, to give their seats to white people.
On December 1, 1955, a black seamstress named Rosa Parks broke the law, and made history.
Her refusal to give her seat in the back of the bus to a white man and subsequent arrest led to the Montgomery bus boycott that set the civil rights movement in motion, culminating in the 1964 federal Civil Rights Bill, which banned discrimination on account of race.
Last week, Rosa Parks died at 92. This week, she became the first woman to ever lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
“She stood up by sitting down. I’m only standing here because of her,” said Kwanne Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit, where Parks had lived for many years.
The bus boycott came a year after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision that separate schools for blacks and whites were “inherently unequal,” and was organized and led by a young Montgomery minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unable to get work, threatened and harassed, Parks and her husband, Raymond, moved to Detroit in 1957. She worked in the office of the Democratic Congressman John Conyers from 1965 until she retired, in 1988. Her husband died in 1977.
In 1996, Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to civilians who make outstanding contributions to American life. In 1999, she was awarded the Congressional gold medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum opened in November, 2000 in Montgomery. The museum features a 1955-era bus and a video that recreates the conversation that preceded her arrest.
At one of many celebrations in her honor, Parks said: “I am leaving this legacy to all of you … to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die – the dream of freedom and peace.”
This great American hero deserves not only our gratitude, but our continuing devotion to peace, justice, equality, and freedom for all.On December 1, the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ historic act, the Rosa Parks Anniversary Nationwide Day of Absence Against Poverty, Racism, & War will be observed. There will be a March on Wall Street and actions in more than 100 cities.