Magazine article Ebony

The Power of One

Magazine article Ebony

The Power of One

Article excerpt

IT was a split-second decision. Not decided by committee. There was no ad-hoc study and no visible force behind her. She was alone.

In the time it takes an average person to decide if she wants flies with that, or the sauce on the side, Rosa Parks' singular decision--50 years ago--changed the world. Parks decided not to get up and give her seat to a White man. A University of Minnesota study several years ago discovered that people make anywhere from 300 to 1,700 decisions daily. Most of those decisions don't change the world. Her decision did. Historian Lerone Bennett Jr. remembers that the tiny, bespectacled Parks demonstrated quiet strength in her solitary act against an entire system of oppression. "She was one woman on a bus, surrounded by hostile forces, who changed everything for us," he said.

And she changed everything for a 26-year-old newly minted pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., catapulting him to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement he would lead for the next 13 years.

The destinies of Parks and King intersected on segregation's axis with a force that led to the end of de facto and de jure segregation in the South. It was Dec. 1, 1955, 90 years after Congress passed the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in America, yet Blacks still were not free. Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat was "The Beginning of the Black Revolution," as Bennett said in his book Wade in the Water: Great Moments in Black History. And it is imperative, that as Parks and other civil rights legends slip away to their much-deserved rest that we who remain not succumb to the revisionist stupor that would downplay their contributions. Parks was not just too fatigued when she sat down on that Montgomery, Ala., bus and spoke truth to power with one quiet question, "Why do you push us around?" Parks in later years dismissed the revisionist image of King as simply a "dreamer. …

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