67 years ago today a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and sparked the Civil Rights movement.
We all know the story: An older Black woman, coming home from a long day at work, stays in her seat on a bus because she is too tired to get up. But that story is wrong, and it does her an injustice. In the battle for Civil Rights, Rosa Parks was no foot soldier; she was Special Forces.
“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” -Rosa Parks
Parks was not the first person of color to refuse to give up their seat; 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had done so 9 months earlier. But Parks would be chosen by a now media-savvy civil rights movement to be high profile. She would be the standard bearer, representing their hope for justice. When it came down to taking action, Parks was alone on that bus with the weight of their hopes on her shoulders.
“When that White driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.” -Rosa Parks
Parks’ preparation for that day began when she was very young. She sat by her grandfather as he guarded the front door of their home, armed with a shotgun as a Klan parade marched by. She walked to her school in all kinds of weather while buses filled with white children took them to their schools. She endured bullying by white kids. Her school was burned twice by arsonists.
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” -Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks knew she was fighting for not just her rights, but for all victims of racism when she refused to give up her seat. she also knew she would pay a price. She was punished for the bus incident with death threats, unemployment, and dire poverty, yet was sustained through years of hardship by her strong Christian faith. Parks remained committed to the struggle for social justice and human rights until her death, inspiring millions of people around the world.