The catalyst that put a Southern Baptist minister, into the history books was the arrest on Dec. 1, 1955, of 42-year-old Rosa Parks in Alabama.
On her way home from work, Ms. Parks sat in the first row of the “colored” section, as usual, but soon all the seats in the white section filled up, then several more white passengers boarded the bus and were left standing. The bus driver demanded that Parks and several other black riders give up their seats. Three reluctantly did – Parks did not.
As she refused again, remained seated, she was arrested for violating the Montgomery City Code. At her trial a week later, Parks was found guilty and fined $10 and assessed a $4 court fee.
After her arrest, the head of the local NAACP chapter met with Martin Luther King Jr. and other local civil rights leaders to plan a citywide bus boycott. Rosa Parks became the symbol of the new movement and Dr. King was selected to lead the boycott that lasted 382 days.
Ultimately, the African-American community took legal action against the city’s ordinance, arguing it was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s “separate is never equal” decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
In the first of many great speeches, Dr. King set the tone. “We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”
With Dr. King and other reasonable leaders at the forefront of the civil rights movement, the tumultuous 60s also were marked by peaceful protests, mass marches, inspiring rhetoric, and change. The Voting Rights Act became the law of the land in 1965 because of Dr. King’s fearless leadership, the strength of many others, all races. . .
While we know his mission cost him his life, I wonder what he would say about the disturbing racial tension and dissension in our nation today — and what would he say and what would he do? -PW