“It was a moment in history when the woman and the hour were met,” said Coretta Scott King, referring to Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her bus seat.
Rosa Parks proved it was possible for a tiny, quiet seamstress to transform herself into a giant with that one, solitary, dignified act of disobedience.
“That day was very much like any other day, and I didn’t get on with the intention of being arrested,” recalled Parks.
It was Dec. 1, 1955. It was also light-years ago in American history, when, on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., Rosa Parks refused to give up her own bus seat to a white man.
“I felt that we as a people had endured far too long,” she said.
What she did broke the law. Then Rosa Parks broke “Jim Crow America” wide open.
“She is properly thought of as the mother of the civil rights movement,” says NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, “because when she sat down, she really stood up for all the rest of us.”
Parks was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Ala., and raised squarely under the thumb of racism. She attended second-rate, blacks-only schools. She drank from blacks-only water fountains.
And when Martin Luther King Jr. learned she’d been arrested, he launched a boycott of all the buses in Montgomery.
The era of fire hoses and police dogs followed. Laws were changed.
“I don’t believe that we are ever going to back to any segregated buses,” said King.
She traveled and spoke out against racism from Detroit to Johannesburg, South Africa. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
“We must never, ever forget about the power of ordinary people to stand in the fire for the cause of human dignity,” said Clinton that day.
School children will forever learn the story of Rosa Parks. What she started on that bus that day may have slowed a bit in the years since, but it has never stopped.