“I have been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore. When I asked the policeman why we had to be pushed around? He said he didn’t know, “The law is the law. You are under arrest.”                  

–Rosa Parks

“Now nobody–Martin Luther King did not tell Rosa Parks to stay in her seat. That came first. Then he came. She just didn’t move. We didn’t used to have to wait for the word. And the history of black people in this country is those people who got up and moved, all over this country.”                      

–Toni Morrison  

Ms. Morrison is right. Mrs. Parks precedes Martin Luther King in the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was a member of the local NAACP and she had been involved with E.D. Nixon, the chapter’s President and a union organizer for the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Cars Porters, in seeking someone who might get arrested so the NAACP could challenge the constitutionality of the law upon conviction. Mrs. Parks became that person by her choice on that day in early December. The “white” and “colored” sections of city buses separated by a movable sign. When Mrs. Parks got on the bus and sat down she was seated “legally.” As the bus continued on its route more white passengers boarded and soon the only available seat for a white person to sit was in the row of seats Mrs. Parks was in. When the white man approached, other black people sitting in the row rose and moved to stand in the back of the bus. Mrs. Parks did not. The law was such that a white person shouldn’t have to even sit in the same row of seats with a black person. He waited for Mrs. Parks to move. She didn’t. He called for the bus driver assistance. He came but Mrs. Parks wouldn’t move so the driver called the police and Mrs. Parks was arrested. 

Mr. Nixon came to get her out of jail and the two of them and Mrs. Parks’s husband debated whether this would be the case and Mrs. Park decided it would be. The Montgomery Bus Boycott started as a result to support Mrs. Parks, meant for a day but it was so successful it was continued and lasted for over a year. By successful we mean Montogomery city buses were empty of black riders. Reverend King was chosen that first weekend, the new kid in town among the city’s African American pastors, as spokesperson for the boycott–his job protected from retaliation because he was employed by the black congregation of his church. The boycott, not the first of its kind, was the focus of the media coverage. But the city did not relent in its support of segregation. Instead, it harassed car pools and cab drivers who gave rides to boycotters. The court challenge, however, was what resolved the matter when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Browder v. Gayle that Montgomery’s segregation law was unconstitutional. The NAACP lawyers who brought the case decided not to use Mrs. Park because her case hadn’t been decided and the appeals process could be tied up for years in the state court system. Instead, they used the already decided cases of Claudette Colvin, who was a minor, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith to bring a federal civil action case against the city of Montgomery. (A fifth woman, Jeannetta Reese, was originally involved in the suit but was pressured into withdrawing; Gayle was the name of the city’s mayor and Browder alphabetically led the plaintiff’s list, hence Browder v Gayle.) 

Time perspective: this was 90 years after the end of the Civil War; 87 years after the passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was used to decide the case; 37 years after the end of WWI, which sparked a resurgence of the KKK and lynching to discourage African American veterans from expecting equal treatment before the law–it also sparked a resurgence of monuments to Confederate heroes, in case you were wondering about the intent of the monuments; 10 years after the end of WWII, in which African Americans had fought and died (still in segregated units); and 7 years after President Truman desegregated the U.S. military. The struggle for equality and justice has been integral to our entire history as a nation. It didn’t end with the Civil War–it continued with forces pushing for justice and forces pushing to protect a custom of privilege and supremacy. Side with justice. Move, as Ms. Morrison advised. Don’t be the policeman who arrests Mrs. Parks without knowing why, only that it’s the law.

Read yesterday’s Thought. Thought of the Day (TOD) is selected by Rick Larios, Monday-Friday, minus public holidays and an arbitrarily chosen summer vacation. Saturday and Sunday, Stacey will be selecting TODs from the archives of past postings. Often, but not always, a comment comes with the quote. TOD originates as a personal email list-sharing and is further shared here with permission. A poem appears in full on Fridays; the copyright belongs to the poet and/or publisher. Buy poetry you like. It will be good for you, good for poets, and order from your local community bookstore and it will be good for them too.