Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Rosa Parks died today, October 24, 2005 at 92.

On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks set the modern civil rights movement in motion when she refused to give up her seat on the the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger. When the front of the bus filled up, the driver ordered Rosa Parks, a seamstress for the Montgomery Fair department store, to give up her seat for a white rider. She refused and was arrested.

Rosa Parks's arrest for breaking Montgomery's segregation laws started a boycott of the city bus line that lasted over a year. This eventually led to the 1956 Supreme Court decision which ruled that segregation on public buses is illegal.

Rosa Parks:
"The famous U.P.I. photo (actually taken more than a year later, on Dec. 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated) is a study of calm strength. She is looking out the bus window, her hands resting in the folds of her checked dress, while a white man sits, unperturbed, in the row behind her. That clear profile, the neat cloche and eyeglasses and sensible coat — she could have been my mother, anybody's favorite aunt." - Observations on Rosa Parks by Rita Dove - from Time Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.

After her arrest, Rosa Parks agreed to challenge the constitutionality of Montgomery's segregation laws. During a midnight meeting of the Women's Political Council, handbills were printed with the following request:

"We are...asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial... You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don't ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday."

The black population of Montgomery stayed off the buses, either walking or catching one of the black cabs stopping at every municipal bus stop for 10 cents per customer — standard bus fare.

On the day scheduled for her court appearance, Rosa Parks slipped through the crowd outside the courthouse, wearing a black dress, a gray coat, a black velvet hat and white gloves. She walked with dignity and appeared fearless. A girl caught sight of her and exclaimed, "Oh, she's so sweet. They've messed with the wrong one now!"

Rosa Park's trial lasted 30 minutes. She was found guilty. That evening, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a gathering at the Holt Street Baptist Church and declared : "There comes a time that people get tired." At the conclusion of King's speech, Rosa Parks, who was in the crowd, silently stood up. Her powerful presence seemed to say, "We all are tired. We are all tired of false justice and inequality. And now is the time for real justice, for real equality."

Martin Luther King, Jr.
1963, Washington DC, "I Have a Dream."

Rosa Park's courage will continue to provide a powerful example of human dignity in the face of brutal authority.

Civil Rights Protest, Memphis, 1968


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