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Fifty-three years ago today, Rosa Parks greatly advanced the cause of civil rights with a single dignified act. She refused to stand.
The year was 1955 when the seamstress quietly explained to a Montgomery, Alabama bus driver, James Blake, that she would not give up her seat for a white passenger. It was the year my parents were married and I wasn’t born until nearly a decade later. But I always knew of Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement. Her story, and that of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed, was part of the context of my childhood.
Children today can only imagine that time when black people were forced to sit at the back of the bus, to drink from separate water fountains, to swim in separate pools and beaches and of course to attend separate schools. Segregationists insisted that such separation could be equal. But we all now know what the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1954. That separate can never be equal.
It was a lesson Rosa Parks, in all her wisdom, understood implicitly. She was arrested for her dignified act of defiance. But her courage is a lesson to all of us, to right a wrong when we see it, to stand for what is moral and decent, and to speak out against injustice.
Rosa Parks died in 2005. She was ninety-three years old. After the bus boycott she continued her crusade at the side of great civil rights leaders of the day. But had she never done anything else, her example proves that a single act of courage can change the world.
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