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Rosa

She needed help standing. Over forty years ago she was arrested for refusing to stand and give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL; on this day, she gladly stood. Leaning on the Speaker of the House of Representatives' arm, Rosa Parks received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest honor on June 15, 1999.

President Bill Clinton was only a child of nine when Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955. Even as a child, he knew what was happening to her was wrong. In his remarks at the ceremony to give Parks the Gold Medal, Clinton said, "[Me and my friends] couldn't figure out anything we could do since we couldn't even vote. So we began to sit on the back of the bus when we got on." (Blacks were allowed to ride segregated buses, but had to sit in the back.)

Today, most Americans recognize Parks as an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, but her defiance didn't come from any political ambitions. She wasn't trying to make a statement, she just wanted to sit down after a long day working as a seamstress. She said, "I didn't get on that bus to get arrested; I got on that bus to go home." That's what made it so significant. She wasn't trying to make the headlines, she wasn't fighting for the spotlight, she was fighting for her dignity.

Her case led to the Supreme Court to declare Montgomery's segregation law unconstitutional. Representative Julia Carson of Indiana called Parks, "the mother of the civil rights movement." The Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said to Parks, "You had courage, and you sat down for all of America and all of America's freedom."

How could one woman's defiance on a cold winter's day in Alabama have such an impact? She struck a chord with people everywhere who have struggled to maintain their dignity in the face of tyrants. A person with that kind of courage deserves to sit with Presidents, not on the back of the bus.

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