Dec. 1, 1955, was the day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger. To kids growing up today, who follow their favorite sports stars, musicians, actors, and other celebrities of all colors, including African-American, something like the Rosa Parks incident may seem like another world. But at the time, 55 years ago, Parks sparked off huge outrage, leading to a yearlong boycott of the bus in her segregated city of Montgomery, Alabama, and the eventual adoption of the Congressional Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It begs the question, though: How different would America and the world be if not for small acts like Parks’ had never been taken? Rosa Parks could have very easily gotten up for this white passenger and faded back into the background. Would we be where we are today without Parks? Would we ever even have had senators like Barack Obama, let alone President Barack Obama?
A Politico reflection on the incident raises even more outrage from those in the Obama generation. Parks wasn’t even sitting in the front of the bus. “…She was seated in the first row of the rear, which was set aside for blacks. Because the front of the bus was full, the driver demanded that she give up her seat to a white rider.”
Many common misconceptions of this incident have Parks sitting in the very front of the bus; but this was the front-rear of the vehicle. Parks was merely standing up for what little rights Montgomery had given her in the first place; this section was set aside for her and others of color. The fact that the bus driver was trying to change the rules of the game for this one instance in particular shows the level of depravity that people of color were subjected to in Parks’ era.
Today we live in a very different world, and we have brave trailblazers like Parks and Obama to thank for taking the lead. When Obama’s name was bandied about for running for president, I remember seeing him in an interview where he had basically ceded the seat to the next in line, Hillary Clinton. A woman president would have been amazing, and we’ll likely have one in our lifetime. But when Obama rode the wave to victory in the 2008 presidential election, he too took a big risk. Had Obama lost the election, we might never have even seen another legitimate presidential candidate of color, let alone a sitting president of color in our lifetime.
It was on the backs of brave individuals who had come before him, like Rosa Parks, that Barack Obama was able to rise to power as President of the United States.