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December 1, 1955, was one of the most transformative days in American history. Rosa Parks, a seamstress and activist/organizer from Alabama, boarded a Montgomery city bus after a hard day of work and changed the course of the Civil Rights movement with one singular act.
Most Americans are familiar with the story. Parks took a seat in the front of the bus that was designated for white passengers. The bus driver ordered her to move to the back of the bus, but Parks refused and was subsequently arrested essentially for resting while Black. The primitive laws of the segregated South would undergo an upheaval of radical proportions over the course of the next decade and a half, and the moment that thrust Parks into the annals of American history would be a leading charge towards change.
A key component of Parks’ narrative that is often overlooked is the years of activism that led her to a single moment everyone recognizes. To dismiss her work as a seasoned field organizer and secretary for the Montgomery NAACP, or her leading work in investigating the sexual assault of sharecropper Recy Taylor, or to even minimize that fateful bus ride as an isolated incident that did not spark a 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, is to tell an inconclusive story about her legacy.
Revisionist history describes Rosa Parks as a meek laborer who was exhausted one day and opted not to reposition herself for a white man. The reality is her resistance was tactical, principled and the response to a decade of advocacy long before her weary feet planted at the front of that bus.
We must always tell her story in its totality if we are to adopt the lessons her advocacy passed on to us.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.