On December 1, 1955, after working as an assistant tailor at a Montgomery, Alabama department store, a 42 year-old woman named Rosa Parks got on the Cleveland Avenue bus, sat down and was told to give up her seat for a white man who was standing. Parks calmly refused. When the driver threatened to have her arrested she replied, "you may do that." The police were called in and Parks was arrested for violating Montgomery's racial segregation laws.
By December 5th, Parks was was tried and convicted for disorderly conduct. That evening, several thousand people flocked to the Holt Street Baptist Church and held a rally in support of Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr. applauded her courage and civil disobedience. He talked about the mistreatment of African American bus passengers and rallied for nonviolent protest.
Dr. King told the crowd: "there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November."
Rosa Parks' solitary act of defiance helped launch a city-wide Montgomery Bus Boycott that would last for 13 months and alter American history. For 381 days during the Montgomery Bus Boycott buses remained empty as an estimated 40,000 African-American commuters found alternate ways to get to work. It was said that many walked miles and miles rather than take the bus. By 1956, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws upholding racial segregation on buses in Alabama were unconstitutional.
Years later Parks was asked if she felt anger when she was on the bus. She replied, "I don't remember feeling that anger, but 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."
During her lifetime, Parks received two dozen honorary doctorates from Universities. Time magazine named this first lady of Civil Rights one of the 20 most influential and iconic figures of the 20th century. President Bill Clinton awarded her the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to a civilian. And when she passed away, she was the first woman to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. "I think Mrs. Parks unexpectedly had greatness thrust upon her," explained Maya Angelou. "But had she not on that particular day said, 'I'm not moving,'...we would have a different nation and a different world."
Celebrate Rosa Parks' February 4th birthday with some of her greatest quotes. Read them here at Parade.com.