Today we celebrate the power of, “No!”
On this date 60 years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. Her act of defiance – a simple No! – set a brush fire that ultimately consumed Jim Crow.
When the white only seats in the front of the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama, filled with passengers on the afternoon of Dec. 1, 1955, several white men were left standing. To make room, bus driver James Blake moved the “colored” section sign behind the row Parks was sitting in and demanded that she, and the three other black people, move to seats in the rear of the bus.
The three other people in the row complied.
Parks did not.
“When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that,’” Parks recalled in a 1987 PBS documentary on the Civil Rights movement.
Blake called the police and an officer arrested Parks. She spent the next day in jail. She was tried four days later and convicted of disorderly conduct. The judge fined her $10 and $4 in court costs. She also lost her job as a seamstress at a local department store.
“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,” she wrote in her autobiography.
On that December day, Rosa faced what likely seemed a hopeless situation. Majority opinion, backed by the strong arm of government, relegated her to second-class citizenship. In that day, who imagined it would ever change?
Still, she took a stand.
She said, “No!” to tyranny.
She said, “No!” to being treated as a second-class citizen.
She said, “No!” in the face of the bully.
Parks’ actions on Dec. 1, 1955, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. As a result, the simmering civil rights movement exploded. Ultimately, Jim Crow died because one woman grew tired of giving in and had the guts to say, “No.”
“It was just time… there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.”
Today, the Tenth Amendment Center honors Rosa Parks for her courage and her willingness to takes a stand as we continue our efforts to say, “No!” to unconstitutional federal overreach.
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