Making History: Catalysts for Change
Photo of Rosa Parks by Associated Press/Courtesy of Library of Congress.
On December 1, 1955, by a singular show of courage in not relinquishing her seat on a bus to a white passenger, Rosa Parks galvanized a people and launched a movement that ended legal segregation in America.
Leading by example, the unknown department store seamstress
shattered the status quo by the force of her commitment to individual freedom and equality. For its positive impact and ultimate significance, Parks’ lonely act of defiance has been likened to the “new possibilities” inherent in Nelson Mandela inviting his jailer to Mandela’s presidential inauguration.
The bus incident in Montgomery, Alabama, was not the first time Parks publicly stood for equality. She was an early activist in the effort
to free the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black defendants in a 1931 Alabama rape case. Together with her husband, Raymond, she worked for the
programs of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as secretary and youth leader.
Parks, who had known considerable fear and lack of opportunity in her childhood, refused to give up her seat because she was done with fear and wanted to know “once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen.”
In the years after the bus boycotts in many parts of the country stemming from her action, Parks served on the staff of U.S. Congressman John Conyers and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. She died at age 92, less than six weeks before the 50th anniversary of her courageous stand.
“While Rosa Parks did not speak her ‘vision’ the way Martin Luther King Jr. did, her actions showed her vision to others and inspired them,” says SPU Instructor in Management Tanya Boyd. “Transformational leadership involves challenging the status quo, and encouraging others to think creatively. Rosa Parks’ leadership was not verbal, but through her actions, she stimulated a string of creative and new ways to address the problem of segregation.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
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