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May 13, 1992

Drilling Down

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Sometimes the simplest of actions carry the most profound of messages. Rosa Parks sent a message about racial segregation when she boarded a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in December 1955, and sat down in row eleven. By law, the first 10 rows of all buses in Montgomery were reserved for whites, and blacks were not allowed to sit in that section, even if the seats in that section were empty and blacks were standing in the aisle. If, however, the white section filled up, then the bus driver could ask the blacks to vacate seats in their section to make way for white folks. It was illegal for blacks to sit in the same twin seats with whites, or even across aisles from them.

On this winter evening close to Christmas, the back of the bus was full and then the front section also filled up. When white passengers were left standing, the bus driver ordered the blacks in the first row of the black section to vacate their seats. Three of the four did. Rosa Parks refused. The bus driver pulled over and called the police. The 42-year-old Parks was arrested and jailed. She was charged with violating the segregation laws of the State of Alabama.

Her refusal to be treated as less than fully human touched off the Montgomery bus boycott, and culminated in December of 1956 with a United States Supreme Court decision to outlaw racial segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks is a small woman with a huge legacy. Each and every time an interviewer came along to ask her questions she responded with the same message over and over. “I simply wanted people to treat me with respect and basic human dignity. That is all.” She stood of for what she thought was right—for herself and for others. In doing so, she helped drive up the respect for herself and for other black people in this divisive world.

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