On that Dec. 1 afternoon, 60 years ago, Rosa Parks’ acts of dignity and courage and her quiet strength changed America and the world, creating a unique place in our evolving racial landscape.
The American people witnessed a defining moment in American history as Rosa Parks, feeling fed up and tired of giving in, was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger, thus violating a Montgomery, Ala. law for segregated seating on buses.
It was way back in 1896, following the infamous Plessy Supreme Court decision, which established the separate-but-equal doctrine, that racial segregation had become the “southern solution” to the problem of the races, giving additional emphasis to the notion that black lives didn’t matter.
Additionally, by 1955, the 42-year old Parks had joined the NAACP and was involved in the civil rights issues in Montgomery. Later that year on Dec. 1, the plan was put into motion with Rosa Parks taking her seat on the front line for change, having made up her mind to never move again. She later said, “It was time for some one to stand up or, in my case, to sit down.”
By refusing to give up her seat, the country witnessed a true American patriot demonstrate her devotion to the betterment of our nation, making America stand up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. And with the subsequent conviction of Mrs. Parks and with the backing of the NAACP, the black community in Montgomery formed the Montgomery Improvement Association with Dr. Martin Luther King as president, launching him into national prominence.
After several mass meetings, blacks were asked not to ride the buses to work, to town, to school or anywhere, thus setting the stage for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, campaigning to end segregation while opening the first chapter in the Freedom Movement.
Armed with non-violence and patience, the boycott organizers engaged in fundraising, organized carpools and conducted weekly church meetings, with much of Montgomery coming out in support of Rosa Parks. The next year, in December 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s laws requiring segregation on buses was unconstitutional, while striking a serious blow to the “southern solution” to the problem of the races—racial segregation. So what started out as just another arrest proved to be anything but another arrest.
Later in life, after moving to Detroit, Rosa Parks served on Congressman John Conyers’ staff for 23 years. And in 1999, President Clinton recognized Mrs. Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the highest honor awarded to an American civilian. Rosa Parks died at the age of 92 on Oct. 24, 2005.
Today as we pause to remember Rosa Parks, some will reflect on her affectionately as the “Mother of the Freedom Movement”, with many agreeing that she had a profound impact in changing the nation and the world. As we look to the future and the work left to do, from creating a more equitable education system to restoring full voting rights for all Americans, let’s summon enough courage and determination to speak up and defend what we know to be right.
Larry Sutton is a former teacher at Clinton High School.