If an updated “Profiles in Courage” (John F. Kennedy, 1956) could somehow be published 50 years later, I believe my heroine Rosa Parks would be in it.
Mrs. Parks was a seamstress in Montgomery Alabama. She had no grand plan for starting a watershed civil rights movement. Waiting for the municipal bus after a hard day’s work, on December 1, 1955, she had planned some community work in the evening; it was not a day to plan to be arrested. But Rosa Parks just got tired of Alabama’s “Jim Crow” system of mistreatment , discrimination and segregation.
That was the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus when a white passenger requested it. The rest of the story is history: the 381-day bus boycott, the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Jim Crow, and the beginning of a long, long struggle for equality and civil liberty in the Land of the Free.
In the words of Elaine Steele, longtime friend and executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development: “She was fed up … there comes a point where you say ‘No, I’m a full citizen too. This is not the way I should be treated.'”
From what I can recall of Profiles, the JFK book published almost a half-century ago, it was filled with PT-109 naval war tales of exceptional heroics in exceptional times by men trained in leadership, combat and in the technical skills required for overcoming incredible difficulty.
Nobody coached Rosa Parks in the incredible legal, social and political ramifications of her simple act of saying “No”. No one provided the “passive resistance” training that would follow this era, the art of getting arrested for a peaceful act of civil disobedience. No one promised Mrs. Parks that her arrest would be any more eventful than the thousands of other annual arrests associated with the Jim Crow era. Mrs. Parks was in no position to defend her family from the KKK and other southern groups bent on reprisal, intimidation and even murder. Some writers have characterized her arrest as courageous but “somewhat reckless.”
There comes a time in every life where one has to take a stand. The difference is, Mrs. Parks didn’t talk about it. She didn’t build up a following and a support group and then stage her own arrest. There were no support groups back then. She just did it because it was the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. And that is why I admire her.
It might have been said that if a seamstress from Montgomery could do it, anybody could do it. The reason this isn’t said is because, sadly, it doesn’t seem to be true. Carpe diem: when the shouting’s over, most of us don’t sieze the day. We let it go. Rosa Parks had the determination not to let it go, the same simple yes/no decision we all get. In my opinion, we are all eternally indebted to her for making the right decision at the right time.
Rosa Parks died yesterday at the age of 92, but her simple, honest and courageous actions in 1955 live as a quiet and enduring inspiration, an honorable legacy forever.
For more information on Rosa Parks, Google offers over 2 million results for a search on 'Rosa Parks'. Below are two of many excellent biographical articles:
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