Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, the woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and, more broadly, the civil rights movement, died yesterday.

The Washington Post obituary highlights something I didn't know about her:
[Rosa Parks wrote in her autobiography,] "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."
When I was growing up, the "tired feet" explanation was the standard story I heard - she had been shopping and was carrying heavy bags, or she had arthritic feet, etc. She just didn't want to stand up because her feet were sore, said the story - insinuating that she almost didn't even mean to cause any trouble.

The truth is more stirring, I think. It was not the aches and pains of the body that moved her to resist, but the constant insults to her dignity, the institutional insistence that she was less than a full human being. She stayed seated with the full knowledge that she was helping to launch a frontal assault on the injustice of Jim Crow. Would that we all had her courage. She was an American hero; may she rest in peace.


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