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Tired of the injustice

  • 23 April 2006

On 1 December 1955, a Thursday night in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, 42, boarded a bus to head home. It had been a long hard day and she was tired. She and three other African Americans sat in the fifth row, the farthest forward they were allowed. After a few stops the first four rows were filled with whites and a white man was still standing. By law in Alabama black and white could not share the same row. The other three stood. She refused. The bus driver threatened to call the police. Everyone else stood up except her. ‘Go ahead and call them,’ she said, ‘I’m not moving.’ The police came; she was arrested and later charged. This was not the first time an African American had protested against racial discrimination or refused to give up their seat on a public bus. But this time was to prove different. Rosa was a committed Christian who belonged to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She had worked with Dexter Nixon, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and enjoyed considerable respect in her own community. When she later said, ‘Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it,’ she gave voice to a feeling many others could share. This time, facing a driver who had refused her once before because she would not enter the bus by the rear door, she realised she had taken an important step. She was found guilty and fined $14. Her charge, violating a city segregation code, provided the opportunity for a legal test case in the United States Supreme Court. However, the result of that challenge remained more than a year away. Her arrest touched and encouraged others to act, and within three days a boycott of Montgomery buses had been called. On the evening before the boycott, a young Baptist minister stood up and spoke to a large assembled church gathering. ‘There comes a time,’ he reminded them, ‘when people get tired.’ He added: ‘We are tired of being segregated and humiliated; tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression.’ The speaker was 26-year-old Martin Luther King. Ordained a Baptist minister at 19, Nobel Peace Prize recipient at 35, assassinated at 39. Later that night the enormity of the challenge was revealed. Any protest, the assembled group realised, would need to stand up against the violence that