On December 1st, 1955, a seamstress shook the nation with her refusal to give up a bus seat to a white passenger, instigating one of the greatest civil rights moments in our country’s history.
From a controversial Google doodle to panel discussion with civil rights leaders, various groups across the nation Wednesday celebrated the 55th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white passenger.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks, who died in 2005, sparked the famous Montgomery bus boycott led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when she defied the Jim Crow law that required black passengers to move to the back of public buses to accommodate whites.
Parks was arrested for refusing to move. The subsequent boycott lasted for 381 days before the Supreme Court eventually ruled the Alabama law unconstitutional.
Asked about that day, Parks stated, “The only tired I was was tired of giving in.”
Parks had not planned to disobey the law on that fateful day, but her thirty-year commitment to social justice prepared her to do so. For her defiance of the segregation ordinance, the Montgomery police took Parks to jail. Montgomery’s police lieutenant, Drue Lackey (who served as police chief from 1965 to 1970 ), took her fingerprints. Responding to a call from Nixon, the white attorney Clifford Durr took her case, but Nixon posted her bail. The court found Parks guilty of disorderly conduct and fined her ten dollars and another four dollars in court costs.
Parks was not the first black woman to have suffered arrest for refusal to countenance bus segregation. In 1941 an angry mob beat Hannah Cofield before she was arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger. In 1944 Viola White met a similar fate. In March 1955 , a few months before Parks’s arrest, Claudette Colvin , an unmarried, pregnant fifteen-year-old girl, had objected to vacating her seat and was jailed.
The local black leadership had long debated challenging bus segregation, but decided to wait for an incident involving someone who embodied the politics of respectability and whose private life could withstand relentless scrutiny. Thus, although Cofield, White, Colvin, and later, Mary Louise Smith , protested bus segregation, their resistance failed to ignite a larger social protest movement.
Now, 55 years later, Park’s legacy is a reminder of courage and determination in the face of oppression – something we could all use a little more of in today’s world.
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