The man nudged his son with his foot and nodded his head at him. The boy looked up from his seat on the airport shuttle, looked at a much older and obviously frail woman (older than me by far), and stood up and pointed to the seat. No words, but an appreciated gesture. He gave up his seat for an older person who probably needed to rest a lot more than he did. People around us smiled at the gesture. The man gave a half smile to us and a broad smile to his son.
When Rosa Parks got on a Montgomery City bus on a winter day in December 1955, the bus was almost empty. So she took a seat in the first row of the rear section of the bus designated with a sign for “colored” passengers. This, after she had paid her fare up front, got off the bus, and then got on again from the rear entrance. The bus company could feel smugly justified in carrying out the city’s ordinance of separate but equal, even though when the bus filled the sign would be moved farther back, diminishing the number of seats for people of color along with a large degree of human dignity.
If the bus filled even more, black passengers were asked to give up their seat. And this is what Rosa Parks and three other black passengers were asked to do. Three complied. She refused.
In this situation, in refusing to stand, she took a stand.
Years ago I was told she refused because she said she was physically tired. It is now told that she refused because she was tired of giving in. Tired of giving in.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott grew out of one woman’s “simple” refusal. The boycott was a huge success. The city’s buses were pretty much emptied. Some people carpooled and others rode in African-American-operated cabs, but most of the estimated 40,000 African-American commuters living in the city at the time had opted to walk to work—some as far as 20 miles.
There is a point in many peoples’ lives when they become sick and tired of something. Sick and tired of giving in to child abuse, sexual abuse, prejudice, bullying, overeating, smoking, or drinking, public rudeness. The list can go on and on. They may complain, feel resentment and bitterness, and seethe inside for days, months, years even. But then there is a time when they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The next step is action.
In my life I recall with a mixture of awe and pride where I was sick and tired of a situation and took a stand. Twice it was a solitary stand because it was a recurring personal situation. But the example of people in history, ordinary people who took a stand, bolstered me and influenced my actions. It was as if, in a sense, they were standing with me. What are you sick and tired of? What have you taken a stand for?
I am indebted to writers who chronicled the boycott. In 1992 Rosa published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography recounting her life in the segregated South. Three years later she published her memoirs in Quiet Strength. Thank you, Rosa Parks.