I'm starting today's thought with a picture and quote from an awesome woman
The fantastic woman who is featured above is Rosa Parks and if you haven't heard of her before ... where have you been?
Rosa was an American activist and she was born on this day - February 4th - in 1913.
But it was around 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 1955, that she did something that changed the course of history and human and civil rights in the USA.
She refused to move from her seat in a bus!
Rosa lived in the south of the USA in the state of Alabama where racial segregation was part of the system and the culture.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the former southern Confederate states, including Alabama, had adopted new electoral laws and constitutions that disenfranchised black voters, and even many poor white voters. The were called the 'Jim Crow laws', and they imposed racial segregation in shops, public facilities and public transportation. Under the law, bus and train companies introduced and enforced strict seating policies with separate sections for black people and whites. In fact, there was no school bus transportation available in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and Rosa Parks herself remembered going to elementary school where school buses took white students to school, but black kids had to walk.
In December 1955 those rules were still in place in the city of Montgomery, where Rosa lived and worked. On the buses, individual conductors were allowed to assign seats to ensure the races stayed apart. The first four rows of seats on buses in Montgomery were reserved for whites. There were 'coloured' sections for black passengers, even though around three quarters of passengers on any bus were black people. The sections could be changed if the bus conductor saw fit, they had movable signs which meant that if a white person needed a seat, a row was re-assigned and black passengers had to move. People of different colours were not even allowed to sit in the same row of seats on the bus!
If the vehicle filled up with white people, basically black passengers were forced to move further and further to the back so that the whites could have their seats. If the bus got overcrowded, it was the black passengers who had to leave - by a rear door. Black people could only enter and leave by the back door.
On that evening of December 1 1955 Rosa Parks was on her way home from work. She paid her bus fare, and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "coloured" section. She was sitting near the middle of the bus, and her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.
As the journey progressed, more and more white people got on the bus and soon all the 'whites only' rows were taken. The bus driver ordered Rosa and three other passengers to leave the row they were sitting in, to make way for white passengers.
The three other passengers in her row moved to seats behind. Rosa refused.
She argued with the bus driver but stayed in her seat. The police were called and Rosa was arrested.
Now just to explain, Rosa was already involved in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a secretary in the local NAACP branch and had been involved in civil rights and other political activity for a couple of decades. But her main job was as a seamstress at a local department store.
And, as she explained in an interview with National Public Radio in 1992, Rosa remembered that she hadn't set out that day to cause a ruckus. Here's what she told NPR's Lynn Neary
'I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time ... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.
The actions and orders of the bus driver James F. Blake that day was the straw that broke the camel's back for Rosa. Although hers was not the first arrest on a bus of a black passenger who refused to give up their seat for a white person, Rosa Parks' defiance was to be a turning point in the civil rights movement.
After her arrest for civil disobedience, with the backing of the NAACP, Rosa began a prolonged court battle. Other court cases were also underway and nearly a year after her arrest, the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which was a court case separate to Rosa's, led to a ruling in the US Supreme Court that bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But what followed Rosa's arrest was the clincher in the whole saga, because it was the catalyst that sparked a boycott of the Montgomery public bus system for almost a year.
Remember, although they were treated badly, black passengers made up around 75% of the bus company's business. Black residents just refused to take the bus and eventually the bus company's finances were rock bottom, but it was only the repeal of the law following that Supreme Court ruling that forced the transit company to change its rule. On December 21, 1956, Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated and black people could ride the bus again, without segregation.
So Rosa has gone down in history as an icon of the American civil rights movement. She would became internationally famous and work alongside, among others, Martin Luther King Jr. In later life, the US Congress would call Rosa Parks "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".
But life wasn't always kind to her. She was fired from her job and struggled to find work and she received death threat for years afterwards.
From 1965 to 1988 she also continued to be involved in civil rights and in politics, including the Black Power movement. This former seamstress who took a stand for right would go on to receive national and international honours including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
When she died on October 24, 2005 aged 92 she became the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda at the Capitol building in Washington DC and a statue was posthumously erected in her honour in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall.
Today the States of California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4, while other states - Ohio and Oregon - commemorate the anniversary of her arrest, December 1.
The quote from Rosa Parks which I've used at the top of this thought says it all I think.
'To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try'
I'm inspired by that idea.
So often when we know there are things that need changing, in our life, in our communities, in our world, we are scared by the prospect of getting involved. It'll be too hard, it'll take up too much time, it'll be beyond my ability.
Maybe I just need to take Rosa Parks' advice and take the first step.
Who knows where that might take me?