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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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