Rosa Parks, it is said, refused to move from the seat she had taken at the front of that Montgomery, Alabama bus on December 1st, 1955, because she was, quite simply, tired -- tired from working a long day as a seamstress for 75 cents an hour. That's how this soft-spoken, dignified woman in her forties had put it for interviewers: she was just tired.
Well, truth be told, Ms. Parks was tired about a lot more than that and had been for some time. She was tired of her low wages, tired of being demeaned by the white bus drivers, who forced African American riders to deposit their fare, then leave the bus to enter it through the rear door, sometimes to be left in the bus's fumes because the driver wouldn't wait. She was tired of having to give up her seat to white men, as was the custom, even if she was sitting in what was considered the black section of the bus.
Rosa Parks, in short, was tired of segregation, tired of Jim Crow Laws, tired of seeing things like fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin getting arrested earlier that year for sitting in a bus seat that a white passenger wanted. She was bone tired of the whole degrading mess that racism had made in this country, and I think she was tired of how slow the progress had been toward equality and justice in America -- after all, she had been quietly but actively working toward these ends most of her life, from the time she became a member of the NAACP in the early 1930s.
So when Rosa Parks says she was tired, it may be the metaphoric understatement of the century. And what this simple, powerful act says to young people today is that the smallest individual action does matter -- it does matter what you choose to do with your life, the moral stands you take, the things you decide, deep in your heart, that you won't stand for any more, the things that you're just too tired to take for another moment. A kind, gentle lady galvanized the Civil Rights Movement; now, one hopes the example of Ms. Parks' heroism will say to young people, "What are you going to do?"
Copyright 2005© Jim Haskins
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Tuesday, 29-Nov-2005 14:36:15 EST