When Rosa Parks declined the bus driver's "invitation" to move to the back of the bus, she was arrested. Today, she died at age 92.
Rosa Parks was 42 years old -- exactly my age -- when she defied the law requiring blacks to yield their seats to whites, triggering a boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system. She was not the first to take such a stand, and she would not be the last, but she was the most famous because Martin Luther King, Jr. used her case as a rallying point for the bus boycott.
The laws that Parks was protesting are startling to the modern eye. Here is a city ordinance of Montgomery that was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1956:
Every person operating a bus line in the city shall provide equal but separate accommodations for white people and negroes on his buses, by requiring the employees in charge thereof to assign passengers seats on the vehicles under their charge in such manner as to separate the white people from the negroes, where there are both white and negroes on the same car; provided, however, that negro nurses having in charge white children or sick or infirm white persons, may be assigned seats among white people
In a challenge to this ordinance (not brought by Parks), the lower court (a three-judge district court panel) held unconstitutional this ordinance and the Alabama statutes that authorized it on grounds that they violated the due process and equal protection of the law clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The dissenting opinion argued for a continuing place in American constitutional jurisprudence for the doctrine of "separate but equal":
If that doctrine has any vitality, this is such a case in which it has been applied fairly. According to its teaching not absolute, but substantial equality is required. Such equality is not a question of dogma, but one of fact. Under the undisputed evidence adduced upon the hearing before us practices under the laws here attacked have resulted in providing the races not only substantially equal but in truth identical facilities
The Supreme Court affirmed the majority opinion in the lower court with this per curium opinion:
The motion to affirm is granted and the judgment is affirmed. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873; Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Dawson, 350 U.S. 877, 76 S.Ct. 133; Holmes v. Atlanta, 350 U.S. 879, 76 S.Ct. 141.
I have often wondered about this photo. It is obviously staged, but who is the white man behind Parks? I am assuming that the photo was taken after the Montgomery ordinance was declared unconstitutional, but is there a story behind this photo?
One last tidbit: Did you know that Rosa Parks' name is mentioned only once among Supreme Court decisions: In the case of LaFace Records v. Parks, 540 U.S. 1074, 124 S.Ct. 925 (2003), the record company for the hip hop group Outkast petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari from a decision of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The dispute revolved around Outkast's song entitled "Rosa Parks," which Parks argued was a violation of her rights under the Lanham Act and under the common law right of publicity. The Court of Appeals sided with Parks on these two issues, and the Supreme Court denied the petition. The case settled.
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