Rosa Parks demonstrated courage even though she did so by sitting down. On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old seamstress was riding the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on her way home from her job at the Montgomery Fair department store when the bus driver, James Blake, told her to move to the back of the bus so that a white person could take her seat. The bus driver wanted to accommodate a passenger who was pregnant.
Strictly speaking, Rosa Parks was not seated in the first ten rows, which were set aside specifically for white people at the time. But, when the bus became more crowded, the driver extended the section reserved for white passengers and requested that everyone on Parks’ row go to the back.
The other three African Americans stood up, but Rosa Parks remained seated throughout the incident. This act of resistance resulted in her being arrested. Still, it also launched her on the path to becoming one of the most important civil rights advocates in the history of the United States.
Even though she was released on bail the same night, African American community members banded together to boycott buses on December 5, 1955, the day of Rosa Park’s trial, as a show of solidarity. They sustained this boycott for 381 days, known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The community as a whole, as well as the transportation system, was affected by the event. In addition, on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation violated the Constitution when it applied to public transportation.
Yet Parks’ fight wasn’t over after that point. In spite of the fact that she struggled financially and physically in the years that followed the boycott and after she moved to Detroit, she continued to fight for equality. She pushed for African American Congressman John Conyers. She even successfully had Martin Luther King Jr., with whom Parks had collaborated during the boycotts, travel to Detroit to lend his support to Conyers.
She first detailed her life in an autobiography titled Rosa Parks: My Story, which was published in 1992, and then she wrote another memoir titled Silent Strength, which was published in 1995. After that, in 1996, she was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, then in 1997, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Her reputation as one of the most prominent African American women of our time endures even though she passed away on October 24, 2005, at 92. The following are sixteen of her most famous quotes:
On the bus: “I’d see the bus pass every day. But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a Black world and a white world.”
On taking a stand: “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”
On the boycott: “During the Montgomery bus boycott, we came together and remained unified for 381 days. It has never been done again. The Montgomery boycott became the model for human rights throughout the world.”
On racial violence: “Our freedom is threatened every time one of our young people is killed by another child… every time a person gets stopped and beaten by the police because of the color of their skin.”
On healing: “Have you ever been hurt and the place tries to heal a bit, and you just pull the scar off of it over and over again.”
On how to live: “It is better to teach or live equality and love … than to have hatred and prejudice.”
On courage: “We must have courage — determination — to go on with the task of becoming free — not only for ourselves, but for the nation and the world — cooperate with each other. Have faith in God and ourselves.”
On conquering fear: “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.”
On taking a step: “There were times when it would have been easy to fall apart or to go in the opposite direction, but somehow I felt that if I took one more step, someone would come along to join me.”
On freedom: “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”
On racism: “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.”
On life and death: “Life is to be lived to its fullest so that death is just another chapter. Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
On setting an example: “Each person must live their life as a model for others.”
On optimism: “I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day, but I don’t think there is any such thing as complete happiness.”
On her legacy: “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free … so other people would be also free.”