Courage in the face of oppression; resistance in the face of injustice. That is the enduring legacy of Rosa Parks, whose defiance on a racially segregated Montgomery, Ala., bus lit the flame of the modern civil rights movement and inspired freedom movements from South Africa to Poland.
Parks died Monday, Oct. 24, 2005, at home in Detroit. She was 92
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus.
Her quiet stand against racial segregation that day galvanized the modern civil rights movement and catapulted the softspoken woman into history.
"I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to segregation laws in the south," wrote Parks in the 1992 book "Rosa Parks: My Story."
The first 10 seats on Montgomery buses were reserved for whites, but that didn't mean blacks were entitled to the others. After whites filled the front 10 seats, black riders in the next row back had to give up their seats and move if more whites boarded. Because blacks were not allowed to sit across the aisle from whites, an 11th white rider could cause four blacks to lose their seats.
Parks took the last vacant seat in the section open to blacks, in the first row behind the white section, and began the 1 1/2 -mile ride home.
"On the third stop, up there by the Empire Theatre, is when a few more people got on," she wrote. "They took up what were called the white reserved seats, and one (white) man was standing.
"And when the driver looked around and saw him standing, he did not move from where he was, but asked us to let him have those front seats -- he called them front seats.
"When he first spoke, didn't any of us stand up. And when he spoke the second time, he said, 'You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.'"
Parks said the black man next to her and the two black women across the aisle from her got up and moved to the rear of the bus.
Parks slid into the seat next to the window.
When the other three people stood up and Parks refused, the bus driver "asked me 'was I going to stand.' I told him no. And then he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I will call a policeman and have you arrested.' So I told him to go ahead and call him.
"He got out of the bus and stayed a few minutes ... Finally two policemen got on ... "
One policeman "asked me why I didn't stand up, and I asked him, 'Why do you all push us around?' And he said to me, and I quote him exactly, 'I don't know, but the law is the law and you're under arrest.'"
Parks was booked, fingerprinted and jailed. E.D. Nixon, then 56, the patriarch of civil rights activism in Montgomery, was among those who bailed her out.
"The next Monday, Dec. 5, was the day of the trial when I was found guilty," Parks said. "It didn't last but a few minutes and nobody was surprised at the verdict."
She was fined $10 plus $4 in court costs for violating segregation laws.
"But that night at my church, the Holt Street Baptist Church, we had a meeting, and thousands of people came," Parks said.
"Most of them couldn't even get into the church. But there were so many people in the streets and off the buses that I think that was the first time I thought something special might be happening."