Most Americans know her story.
Parks was riding the Cleveland Avenue bus home from work in Montgomery, Alabama on Dec. 1, 1955, when the white only seats in the front filled with passengers. Bus driver James Blake moved the “colored” section sign behind the row Parks was sitting in and demanded that she and the three other black passengers move to seats in the rear of the bus to accommodate the white riders.
Parks later said, “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”
The three other people in the row complied.
Rosa Parks did not.
“When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that,’” Parks recalled in a 1987 PBS documentary on the Civil Rights movement.
Notice what Parks did not do.
She did not punch the bus driver in the face. She did not pull a gun and start firing away at the police officers when they showed up to arrest her. Her actions had no “teeth.”
She just said, “No.”
In fact, she was the one bitten. Police arrested Parks and she spent a day in jail. She was tried four days later and convicted of disorderly conduct. The judge fined her $10 and $4 in court costs. She also lost her job as a seamstress at a local department store.
But Parks’ actions that day sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and ignited the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rose to prominence during the boycott, and when it was all said and done, America was a different place. As the King Institute at Stanford University points out, “The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed.”
Jim Crow died because one woman had the guts to say, “No.”
Would anybody argue that Parks’ actions lacked courage or effect simply because they didn’t have “teeth?”