By Congressman Kweisi Mfume
On December 5, 1955, one woman’s act of courage in the face of immoral, systemic law, prompted a stand against a country that refused to see her as an equal. This woman was Ms. Rosa Parks – she said no when asked to give up her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Line because of the color of her skin. Her actions led to a yearlong boycott that did not end until December 20, 1956. Sixty-five years later, we rightfully celebrate and recognize the patriots who propelled the Montgomery boycott into an iconic moment for our nation.
In history, we have seen time and time again how one man or woman’s action can create a ripple effect that can change the course of generations. For the United States of America, Ms. Parks’ bravery in the midst of oppression from a country was one of those moments. In a country still stained with imperfection regarding race, it is essential that we honor the legacy of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Following the arrest of Rosa Parks, the Women’s Political Council posted flyers across Montgomery. In them, there was a line that read “The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or your mother.”
This was for whom these heroic activists were fighting – the African American family of not only the 1950s, but future generations of Black Americans as well. Now more than sixty years later, recognize that we were also for whom they were fighting.
Eighty-eight boycott leaders, along with Ms. Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were arrested during this extended protest. Despite this risk, countless fearless men and women remained devoted to the cause – a true testament to their strength and endurance. Ask yourself, what would you be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of society?
While the strength of this movement cannot be overstated, the bus boycotts also tell another story: one of unity. Ms. Parks may have been chosen as the torchbearer of the boycott, but she was not the only one who kept it burning. We mustn’t forget the Women’s Political Council (WPC) and Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) who were instrumental in organizing this demonstration.
The commitment to this cause spread to all aspects of life for African Americans in Montgomery. Black taxi drivers began charging fairs equal to that of the bus line to help maintain the movement. Residents walked, hitchhiked, or rode bicycles, no matter the burden these modes of travel had on their lives. Despite homes and Black churches being firebombed, as well as boycotters being physically attacked, the protest stayed firm. Led by Dr. King, this boycott never matched violence with violence.
On June 5, 1956, a federal district court ruled that the state of Alabama’s racial segregation laws on public buses were unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court upheld this ruling, and established it as the law of the land, ending the Montgomery bus boycott on December 20, 1956.
The Montgomery bus boycott will be forever remembered as a story of triumph, and the immeasurable power of protest. Those who diminish the power of protest need to reflect on what these men and women were able to accomplish with their sacrifice. They are evidence that you do not have to be a lawmaker to rewrite the framework in which this country is governed. Instead, through unbreakable commitment to a cause, we as Americans have the power to bring about change. With unwavering faith in each other, this nation can be refined to reflect a society that sees every member as one.
The fight for civil rights and a truly equal and just United States remains a work in progress. But we will keep fighting. I want to honor the brave women and men of the Montgomery bus boycott, now sixty-five years later, for showing us the way. I know they still walk with us.
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