Sixty-seven years ago this past Dec. 1, the American people witnessed a defining moment in American history, a moment of dignity and courage that changed the nation and the world. Feeling “fed up” and having made her mind up to never move again, Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger, thus violating a Montgomery, Alabama, law for segregated seating on city buses.
She later said, “…the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” Following Rosa Parks’ arrest, she was allowed to make that one phone call. Probably few phone calls have had as much impact on a nation as the one made by Mrs. Parks, to get in contact with her pastor, E.D. Nixon, who was the president of the NAACP in Montgomery.
Historically, no other civil rights group has played a larger role than the NAACP in fighting to end segregation. Also, by refusing to give up her seat, the country witnessed the highest moment of Rosa Parks’ patriotism, demonstrating her devotion to the betterment of our nation. Her simple act of dignity and courage would change America, helping to move us closer to fulfilling the vision of equality for all. 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 Jr. as president. Following several mass meetings, Blacks were asked not to ride the buses to work, to town, to school or anywhere, thus launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott, using this economic weapon in the campaign to end segregation. This decision to start the bus boycott saw much of Montgomery coming out in support of Mrs.
Parks, and over a year later, in Dec. 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s law requiring segregation on buses was unconstitutional, striking a serious blow to the “southern solution” to the problem of the races – the separate-but-equal doctrine. Later, realizing her life would never be the same in Montgomery, Rosa Parks left Montgomery, moving to Detroit where she served on Congressman John Conyers’ staff for 23 years.
Parks also received many honors, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1979, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, and 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. In honoring Mrs. Parks’ legacy with a life-size statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall in February 2013, President Barack Obama proclaimed, “But we can do no greater honor than to remember and to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.” Today, as we look back on Rosa Parks’ life, let us summon enough courage and determination to speak up and defend what we know to be right, moving us in the direction of a better America for all. Larry Sutton is a retired educator who taught at Clinton High School.