On December 1, 1955, after a long day’s work at a Montgomery department store, where she worked as a seamstress, Rosa Parks boarded the bus for home. She took a seat in the first of several rows designated for “colored” passengers. Though the city’s bus ordinance did give drivers the authority to assign seats, it didn’t specifically give them the authority to demand a passenger to give up a seat to anyone (regardless of color). However, Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the custom of requiring black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers, when no other seats were available. If the black passenger protested, the bus driver had the authority to refuse service and could call the police to have them removed. As the bus Rosa was riding continued on its route, it began to fill with white passengers. Eventually, the bus was full and the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle. He stopped the bus and moved the sign separating the two sections back one row and asked four black passengers to give up their seats. Three complied, but Rosa refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” The driver called the police and had her arrested. Later, Rosa recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in.
Her story has inspired many to non-violent ways to seek change.
Walter Brueggeman reflects on this remarkable woman (p.151 Prayers for a Privileged People):
Rosa is dead….but not forgotten!
Rosa is dead….but remembered.
Remembered by us here as a witness to your truth.
Remembered by those who have sat too long at the back of the bus,
and now have moved forward a couple of rows but still have no free ride.
those accustomed to sitting up front,
those who have begun repentance that is still unfinished
those so in control that relinquishment is not easy and mostly done with a grudge.
Rose is dead….but remembered,
to be retold after and long among us,
retold because the tale we tell of her is an item in your large story
and finally – not too soon – forgiveness.
As we remember Rosa, we recall your big story
in which we are situated –
the wonder of the sea miracle,
the miracle of homecoming from exile,
the astonishment of Easter emancipation.
We remember the day the hills danced in resurrection and the waters answered in new creation.
We remember…..and so we hope,
for your new miracles so urgently awaited,
miracles of redemption and release,
of still more back-of-the-bus people brought to newness.
We give thanks for Rosa and Martin and Nelson and Desmond
and all those who have trusted your goodness.
Let us walk in Rosa’s parade, which is a segment of your Easter parade.
In remembering and in hoping, open us to your new world that is coming soon – even now!