From Montgomery to Charlotte, Buses to Restrooms
by Mila Madison
Back then there was a city ordinance that required African Americans to give up their seats to white passengers if the front half of the bus was full. The front of the bus was reserved for white people. Parks, who along with 3 other passengers was sitting in the first row of what was then called the “colored” section. On that particular day, all the “white” seats were filled up. The bus driver, J. Fred Blake, asked Parks and the others to vacate their seats. Though the other African American passengers complied with the driver’s request, Parks refused. She was arrested and fined $10 plus $4 in court fees. This was a lot of money in 1955, particularly for an African American seamstress in Alabama.
“THE DECISION BY PARKS TO STAND UP FOR HER RIGHTS WOULD SPARK THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT…”
Four days later, the Montgomery Bus Boycott would begin. It would last for 381 days (December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956) as African Americans protested segregated seating by refusing to ride city buses. In the end, after finding the ordinance to be unconstitutional, the United States Supreme Court would order Montgomery to integrate its bus system. The decision by Parks to stand up for her rights would spark the birth of the American Civil Rights movement as one of the leaders of the boycotts, a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr., would emerge.
Though the Supreme Court ruling was a constitutional victory for human rights, it would first result in a backlash of violence and hatred. Members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed four African American churches, along with some of the homes of the prominent leaders of the civil rights movement. A bomb was found and diffused in Dr. King’s home. Snipers shot at oncoming buses. The violence would not subside until 7 of the Klan bombers were found and arrested. Well aware of the dangers, Dr. King was not deterred as he was willing to give his life for what he believed in.
It only took one moment of courage to change the world forever. Martin Luther King Jr. would go on to inspire millions. His dream, of a world where we would all be equal, rang out through generations and broke through the walls of oppression. His vision would not apply only to the African American community, but to all those who faced inequality and discrimination. He died for his cause.
The fight for civil rights would continue on. A little over a year after his tragic death, the Stonewall riots would take place in 1969. Leaders of the LGBT movement like Martha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera and Miss Major would emerge as a result. In the 70’s we had Harvey Milk fighting for gay rights as he inspired a community to come out, to be seen, and have their voices heard. The torch would be passed on to other generations as every oppressed group who was able to stand up and say “no more” would continue the fight for the very same vision, to be equal.
“…60 YEARS AFTER ROSA PARKS, WE FIND OURSELVES AGAIN IN THE SAME POSITION, ONLY THIS TIME WITH A NEW GROUP OF PEOPLE AND A NEW CAST OF VILLAINS…”
Just like the discriminatory ordinance in Montgomery years ago, today we have laws such as “HB2” in North Carolina. This time they are aimed at the transgender community. We have the prospect of SB6 in Texas and other discriminatory legislation proposed in many other states. Just like the bus ordinance in Montgomery, transgender people would face a fine, only now for using a restroom that doesn’t match the gender that is listed on their birth certificate. Just over 60 years after Rosa Parks, we find ourselves again in the same position, only this time with a new group of people and a new cast of villains as history repeats itself.
There will come a day when some feeble minded person will seek to impose these discriminatory measures. A transgender person may be fined for simply using the restroom. Perhaps that person will stand up in the face of it, and out of that act of courage a new leader will emerge. But we should not wait for that to happen. We need to do things differently; otherwise we may find ourselves in the same cycle, with a new group of people and a new cast of villains. We need to expand upon the vision of Dr. King to truly realize his dream and end the cycles of discrimination. Instead of waiting for someone to lead us, we all need to be leaders. We all need to channel Dr. King’s sprit and not wait for someone else to do it for us. Change simply cannot happen with one person. No amount of laws protecting us or otherwise will change opinions. No one person, not even the President of the United States, can change what is in people’s hearts and minds alone. In the end that change will come from us as we come out to the world and show them that we are valid. It is time for us all to stand up and be heard. And though there will certainly be a backlash with every step of progress we make, we must continue forward. We must take a stand for our rights, even though it may put our lives in danger. For if we don’t live as who we truly are, our lives are already lost.
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and peace,