Celebrating Rosa Parks

Feb. 1 marked the beginning of Black History Month, a month celebrating the achievements of Black Americans in American history and highlighting key players in the fight for equality and justice. To start, it is important to reflect on one of the most pivotal and famous flashpoints in Black history, which happened on a bus in Alabama in 1955.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus home after work in Montgomery, Alabama. Back then, buses were segregated and Black people had to sit in the back. As the bus filled up along the route, the operator noticed several white people standing up in the aisle. This prompted the bus operator to stop the bus and asked four Black passengers to let some white people sit. While others complied, Parks did not, saying she did not think she had to stand up.

The bus operator continued to demand that Parks stand, but she remained seated. This led the operator to call the police. Parks was arrested for violating a city ordinance but was released on bail later that night. This sparked a public outcry among members of the Black community, leading to a boycott of the Montgomery bus system on Dec. 5, 1955. The boycott lasted a total of 381 days, resulting in a U. S. Supreme Court (Browder vs. Gayle) ruling that segregation on public transit systems is unconstitutional, thus making it law that passengers would no longer be separated by skin color on any form of public transit. The city of Montgomery would later attempt to appeal the decision by the court, but the ruling was upheld, thus bringing an end to the boycott and racial segregation on public transit for good.

Parks later moved to Detroit, where she became secretary and receptionist for U.S. Rep. John Conyer. She also went on to establish the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which introduces youth to important civil rights cases throughout American history. Parks died on Oct. 24, 2005, at her home after a battle with dementia. She was laid to rest in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery alongside her husband.

Rosa Parks was the recipient of many honors and awards, most notably the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s 1979 Spingam Medal, awarded every year to African Americans who have accomplished outstanding achievements. Parks also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1996, as well as the Congressional Gold Medal.

The significance of what Rosa Parks accomplished cannot be emphasized enough. Her choice to not stay seated sparked a nationwide movement for equality and justice.