Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of a bus, touched off the Montgomery bus boycott and the beginning of the civil rights movement, is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., Feb. 22, 1956. She was among some 100 people charged with violating segregation laws.
For black people in New York and throughout the nation, this week marks the 55th anniversary of a brave act that changed our world.
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a pretty black seamstress, on her way home from work, refused to go to the back of a bus, as required by a city ordnance.
Rosa Parks didn’t intend to launch a nationwide civil rights movement -- but that’s what happened. Historians believe her lone act of defiance led to the movement that ended legal segregation in America. She refused to yield her seat to a white man when the driver ordered her to get to the back of his bus.
Ms. Parks was arrested and fined $14 but never paid the fine. She became the symbol for a 381-day bus boycott led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy. In 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court enshrined her name in history when it ruled that the Montgomery discrimination statute was unconstitutional.
I talked on Tuesday to David Dinkins, the first black Mayor of New York City. “I have said that, in the struggle for civil rights, we stand on the shoulders of giants: Dr. King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks," he told me.
“She didn’t intend to start a movement. What she felt might be summed up as: ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ So she refused to go to the back of the bus---and the rest is history," Dinkins added.
When she was growing up in a small town in Alabama, Ms. Parks once recalled, “we didn’t have any civil rights. It was just a matter of survival, of existing from one day to the next. I remember going to sleep as a girl hearing the Klan ride at night and hearing a lynching and being afraid the house would burn down.”
Ms. Parks always had that fear and that, perhaps, is why she said, “I didn’t have any special fear for being involved in the bus boycott.”
December 1, 1955 -- a day that will live in the history of civil rights and democracy.