Remembering Rosa Parks
This week begins Black History Month—a celebration of the history and achievements of African Americans and a time for recognizing the important role of Black men and women in U.S. history.
Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating and recognizing Black history.
Black History Month is not only about celebrating the accomplishments and societal contributions of a particular group of people, it also honors the individuals who acted with great courage to address the inequalities experienced by Black Americans. One of those people is Rosa Parks, who was born on February 4, 1913. Her life is an inspiration.
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress in her forties, was arrested for breaking an Alabama law requiring Black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full.
Most public areas, including buses, were segregated. The city of Montgomery used a moveable sign to segregate the “white section” from the "colored section." The driver would place the sign at his discretion, generally reserving the first few rows as "reserved for white people." Mrs. Parks sat down behind the sign in the "colored section.”
To allow several standing white passengers to sit, the bus driver decided to move the sign backwards a few seats. Rosa Parks refused to move. That’s when the bus driver told her he would call the police and have her arrested. Her reply: "You may do that." And with this act, she gave an incalculable contribution to the Civil Rights movement in the United States.
In response to her arrest, and led by a young Martin Luther King Jr., the local Black community organized a bus boycott that began the day Parks was convicted of violating segregation laws. The boycott lasted more than a year (during which Parks lost her job) and ended only when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional. It was a watershed moment in the pursuit for Civil Rights .
In refusing to give up her seat, Rosa Parks gave courage to thousands of people. As so many have observed, because she sat down, many stood up. Much later she would say, “I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
During the bus boycott, Dr. King stated, “This is not a war between the white and the Negro but a conflict between justice and injustice. If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love.”
Rosa Parks embodied the dignity and strength of those in the struggle to end racial segregation. Sixty-six years after her act of civil disobedience, the movement she and many others helped to shape and lead continues.
In 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the United States bestows on a civilian. In that same year, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. When she died at age 92 on October 24, 2005, she became the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
As Black History Month gets underway, we remember Mrs. Rosa Parks and that fateful moment in Montgomery when her courage showed the way. An American hero, and an example for all of us.