Lauded by many as the mother of the modern civil rights movement, Rosa Parks died peacefully last night at age 92. On December 1st, 1955, Mrs. Parks refused to stand up and offer her seat to a Caucasian person who stepped onto the public bus after her. When summoned to her arrest, she calmly asked the police officer why she should give up her seat. He answered that he did not know, but it was the law and he would arrest her.
She became a symbol in her time – of the struggle, the butting failures and successes of the distinctive American melting pot. After what was then a courageous act, and now would seem an embarrassment, the Civil Rights movement vaulted to the forefront of our nation’s political agenda and social restructuring. We have a federal holiday now devoted to its commemoration and its leaders.
Almost exactly 50 years later, should we be proud of how far we have come? Can we claim that we have broken the barriers of racism and prejudice in our nation? And along that vein, is it ‘bad’ that different cultural populations are self-isolating, as they often are in many forms of social organization? Some academics argue that progress in racial equality only occurs when a big event like a war highlights the contribution of our nation’s African American or other minority population. One wonders what Rosa would say now, and another 50 years from now. A salute to a woman who made many think.