Solidarity in the face of Injustice

“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 … No the only tired I
was, was tired of giving in.” –
Rosa Parks
This year marks a hundred years since the birth of
Rosa Parks. Growing up on a small farm in Tuskegee, Alabama few could have imagined
that Ms. Parks was destined to change the face of civil rights in America. But
just as few could have imagined Ms. Parks would change America, few could deny
she did.

When Ms. Parks was 42 years old she was working as a
seamstress and was heading home on the bus after a long days’ work in
Montgomery, Alabama[1].
 She had seated herself near the middle
of the bus, in a seat behind the 10 seats specifically reserved for white
people. When the bus filled up, however, and there were no seats left, she was
told to give up her seat to accommodate a white person who’d entered the bus.
Ms. Parks knew that as an African American woman she was legally obligated by
the segregation laws of the time (otherwise known as “Jim Crow laws”) to give
up her seat. But weary of a system that promoted discrimination and the
“horrible restrictiveness of Jim Crow laws”[2],
she was not about to give up her seat that day.

She knew the laws were absurd and racist and morally
wrong. As a volunteer with the NAACP, she knew that in the past 12-months alone
three other African-American women had been arrested for the same act, but she
also knew that she wasn’t going to take it anymore.

The NAACP had been looking for a plaintiff for a test
case to challenge the constitutionality of the segregation laws. For
a variety of reasons the NAACP determined the others would not make good
plaintiffs. But Ms. Parks was different. She was well-regarded in the community
and it was felt she could garner broad public support[3]. As
another passenger of the Montgomery bus system is reported to have said at the
time: “they’ve messed with the wrong one now.”[4] And
so Ms. Parks, through a simple yet bold act of non-violent protest, did
something that would inspire a sea-change in America: she refused to give up
her seat.

Ms. Parks was promptly convicted of violating the
segregation laws. While she appealed the conviction, a civil rights group, the
Montgomery Improvement Association, organized a boycott of the bus system. A
young charismatic Baptist minister was chosen to lead the Montgomery
Improvement Association and organize the boycott. His name was Martin Luther
King Jr. 

Roughly 75% of the people who rode the buses in
Montgomery at that time were African American and the boycott thus
posed a major economic threat to the bus lines. Those who saw and disagreed
with the obvious injustice of the laws that made Ms. Parks’ arrest a lawful
one, stood in solidarity and made the boycott a rousing success[5].

The boycott lasted 381 days until a case inspired by
Ms. Parks’ persecution went before the U.S. Supreme Court where the Court
upheld a District Court ruling that the “separate but equal” segregation laws
were an unconstitutional violation of the due process and equal protection of
the law clauses enshrined in the 14th Amendment[6]. The
segregation laws were accordingly struck down and three days later, on December 20, 1956, Montgomery was ordered to have integrated buses.

The strength and courage of one woman, backed by the
solidarity of those who supported her decision to reject unjust treatment,
sparked a boycott and civil rights movement that altered America. When she sat
down others stood up, and they brought to America a truth it had ignored for
too long: there is no separate but equal, there is only equal.

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