By Contributor on February 04, 2013

Today marks the 100th birthday of civil rights legend Rosa Parks. To mark the date, the U.S. Postal Service has issued a Rosa Parks stamp complete with a ceremony in Detroit where Parks lived at the end of her life. It is a worthy honor for Mrs. Parks, a fitting tribute to one of the nation's greatest citizens.

In December 1955, Parks, who was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, was living in Montgomery. She was working as a seamstress at a department store in a city that people called "The Cradle of the Confederacy." The city, like the South, was racially segregated and racist to the core. Every facet of life in Montgomery, including its public bus transportation system, was segregated.

On the city bus system, whites sat in the front of the bus; blacks sat in the back. If there were no seats for whites, blacks had to give up their seats and stand. It was racist madness and a source of daily humiliation for the black citizens of Montgomery.

Parks was a passenger on a crowded Cleveland Avenue bus on December 1, 1955, when she refused an order by a white bus driver to give her seat up to a white passenger who had entered the crowded bus. After being threatened with arrest, Parks refused again and was arrested. She was jailed and fined for violating Montgomery's segregation laws. Her act of defiance set off the Montgomery bus boycott in December 1955.

The blacks of Montgomery almost immediately formed the Montgomery Improvement Association and decided once and for all that they would no longer ride the buses in Montgomery as long as they were racially segregated. Blacks did not ride the buses; they either walked or were given rides through a clever but well organized system of cars and taxis organized by local civic groups.

The boycott stunned the whites of Montgomery and the city officials maintaining the racist laws. The nearly 13-month boycott would eventually lead to desegregation of the city's public transit system, a major victory at that time. More importantly, the modern Civil Rights Movement began that day, and a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. was propelled into the spotlight.

However while the basic story of Rosa Parks and her singular act of defiance is well known, Rosa Parks is more than some historical accident. Parks was, in fact, in preparation for her moment in history for years. Parks was serving as volunteer field secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1955 and had been active in civil rights battles in Montgomery going back decades. She also served on the Women's Political Council in the city, an organization that had been out front seeking equal rights for blacks. Parks had also attended the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, where she trained under civil rights activist Septima Clark in the art of racial desegregation. Thus, when she was arrested, she immediately agreed to become the test case that would challenge the Jim Crow bus system.

Rosa Parks's famous act of protest did not come without personal sacrifice. She was declared a pariah in the city, lost her job as a seamstress, and received death threats. She eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she lived until her death on October 24, 2005, at age 92.

Upon her death, Mrs. Parks laid in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda for two days. More than 30,000 people paid their respects. National leaders spoke at her funeral, including then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton.

Now called "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," Rosa Parks resisted such labels. She always said she was just trying to do what was right. She also said her act never had anything to do with being physically tired.

"The only tired I was," Parks remarked years later, was "tired of giving in."

She was an extraordinary human being, and we're all in her debt.

Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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