Rosa Parks was tired. She'd just spent all day sewing and pressing clothes at the Montgomery, Alabama., department store, where she was a tailor's assistant. Her feet, neck and shoulders ached as she arrived at her bus stop to go home. The thought of standing during the ride did not sit well with her, so she let one crowded bus go by.
A second, less crowded bus came. She got on, taking a seat in the middle of the bus. In the segregated Montgomery of Dec. 1, 1955, the first 10 rows are reserved for white riders. As the bus went along its route, more people got on, and the white section of the bus filled up. When another white man boarded, the driver ordered Parks and three blacks seated next to her to move.
Parks refused and was arrested. Her act of individual resistance is one of seminal events in the civil rights movement. Parks' made her heroic stand in an atmosphere of lynchings for blacks who stepped out of line, putting her at great risk. Her actions changed the course of history and made her an American icon.
Parks was convicted for violating the city's segregation law. The local NAACP chapter, of which Parks was a member, organized the bus boycott and used Parks' prosecution to challenge the constitutionality of city's segregation laws. The lawsuit resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing segregation on city buses. The protests also brought a Montgomery clergyman named Martin Luther King Jr. into national prominence.
"I don't remember feeling that anger," Parks said of her arrest in a 1995 interview. "I did feel determined to take this as an opportunity to let it be known that I did not want to be treated in that manner and that people have endured it far too long. However, I did not have at the moment of my arrest any idea of how the people would react."
In the years since her infamous arrest, Parks has been a leading spokeswoman for civil rights and won numerous honors for her work. The American Academy of Achievement, which inducted her into its hall of fame in 1995, calls Parks an "example of courage and determination and an inspiring symbol to all Americans to remain free." She is also an inductee in the National Women's Hall of Fame.
People still have the power to make a difference, particularly younger generation, Parks said.
"The advice I would give any young person is, first of all, to rid themselves of prejudice against other people and to be concerned about what they can do to help others," she said. "And of course, to get a good education, and take advantage of the opportunities that they have."
Rosa Parks R.I.P.
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