Sooner or later in the 1950s, a crisis was bound to occur over legalized, state-enforced racial segregation.
The policy was inconsistent with the ideals of individual liberty on which the country was founded, the experience of World War II had created cracks that were bound to widen in the edifice of racial segregation, and the South was on the verge of economic and social changes that would highlight the irrationality of legalized discrimination.
The country was probably fortunate that it was Rosa Parks who, on a bus in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955, answered “No, I’m not,” when the driver asked if she was going to give up her seat for a white man.
Her defiance precipitated an arrest, which led to a boycott of the Montgomery bus system by black citizens, which brought to the forefront Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the 26-year-old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
Rosa Parks, 92, died Monday at her home in Detroit.
Although the moment may have chosen Rosa Parks, it was not entirely happenstance that she was the person who had finally had enough of being treated as a second-class citizen. When she married her husband, Raymond, in 1932 he was already active in civil-rights causes. The couple were active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People beginning about 1943.
Others had refused to move from their seats and been arrested before. But in Rosa Parks a movement ready to come of age to confront a plethora of injustices found just the right symbol. She was 42, married and steadily employed. She was shy but determined — quietly immovable on the question of whether people deserved to be treated with dignity regardless of the color of their skin but virtually without personal ambition or a desire to be a media star.
In subsequent years others would exploit or hustle aspects of the civil-rights movement. Rosa Parks accepted praise and criticism alike with simple dignity and reminded people that the cause of equal treatment under the law was more important than she was — which only made people appreciate her more.
They were right to do so. We trust her faith has been rewarded, and she is being greeted even now with quiet appreciation in heaven.