The Legacy of Rosa Parks

In any great movement which brings about great change in a nation or a people, there is something called a watershed moment. A watershed moment is that one signature event that activated the onslaught of great and historic change. In American history, that watershed moment could be the Boston Tea Party. But in the context of black history, particularly when we take into account the central role that the civil rights movement has played in black history in this country, there’s really just one watershed instance that nearly anybody who understands black history will point to.

That event happened on December 1, 1955 on a simple city bus when a black woman by the name of Rosa Parks got on that bus.  When the bus turned crowded, the bus driver ordered Ms. Parks to give up her seat to a white man as was the cultural order of things at that time.  But Rosa Parks was not concerned in seeing that cultural order of things continue.  She refused to give up that seat. 

The explosion of outrage and social change that was brought out by that one simple act of civil disobedience is the watershed moment that anybody affected by the civil rights movement points to at the most significant event in modern black history.  Rosa Parks was apprehended for not giving her seat up that day and the trial for that act of civil disobedience brought in to the national spotlight another important leader in the civil rights movement by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This single event began to intensify and gather energy in the black community.  It was a stirring and somewhat frightening time as the black community was energized and began to organize around these two brave leaders and the result was the most powerful civil rights protests in the history of the movement came about which pertained be known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

There are numerous reasons why such a simple event has had so much powerful effect on a people like it did on the black community of the 1950s.  Undoubtedly the frustration and gathering power of a movement was already building up in the black community.  A situation like this can best be identified as a tinderbox that is just awaiting for a spark for it to explode into fire.  Once that simple black woman ultimately decided that she was no longer going to live in servitude to the white man and she placed her foot down and said NO, and that was the spark that set the civil rights movement in motion.

Rosa Parks wasn't a trained instigator or a skilled manipulator of organizations.  Because she was merely a citizen and a simple woman with simple every day needs, that itself was a potent statement that this was the time for the community to take action and bring about change.  She wasn't even looking to start a nation changing civil rights movement when she turned down to give up her bus seat.  As she said afterwards in an interview about the event…

"I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama.”  Then, in her autobiography, "My Story" she expounded that…  “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 gained the right to be treated as a human being for herself and for her people across America and even around the world with her simple act of civil disobedience.  She is an inspiration to us all that we likewise must demand the right of simple human dignity for all people who are citizens of this great land.  And the story of Rosa Park’s audacity shows that if we assert what is right, then we may succeed.

Rosa Parks - A Short Biography for Kids