Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

It was on a day in December 1955 when a black seamstress in Alabama got uppity in the Deep South, boarded a city bus and, by taking a seat in the wrong place, took a stand for the right thing.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks died today at her home in Detroit, at the age of 92. In the rapidly passing parade of events -- a relentless cascade of tragedy and folly that makes it hard to keep track of what happened fifty hours ago, let alone fifty years -- Rosa Parks' statement endures, resonates in ways that many Americans, and just as certainly many black Americans, may have forgotten.

They never lived a life in which they had no choice about where to sit on a city bus or a commuter train; they've never had to contend with ridiculous distinctions made between one water fountain and another, or one bathroom on another, or one lunch counter seat or another.

Those distinctions began to be erased with Parks' stand on principle in December 1955. From that action, and her arrest afterward, the black residents of Montgomery, Ala., began a boycott that underscored the economic power of African Americans living under siege. For 381 days, blacks boycotted Montgomery buses, in an action spurred on by a relatively unknown minister named Martin Luther King.

With the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling of the year before her sitdown statement, and the bus boycott that lasted more than a year after, the groundwork was laid for what became the modern civil rights movement, a concatenation of events, legislation and acts of personal courage that rings in the nation's ears today, regardless of whether or not the nation really wants to hear.

What more to say? Thank you, Sister Rosa; go to your rest, your job well done.
Image credit: Montgomery (Ala.) Sheriff's Department

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