The common assertion is that Parks’ moment in history began in December 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. But we must confront this assertion, because each time we confine her memory to that moment we erase part of her admirable character, strategic intellect and indomitable spirit.
To be clear, Rosa Parks left us a deliberate legacy of activism, not an accidental activist moment. Furthermore, she, like many other Black women, should not be remembered in the shadows of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. or any other Black male civil rights activist, but rather right alongside of them. We must realize and teach that when Rosa Parks was helping lay the foundation for the civil rights movement, Dr. King was still in high school.
At the intersection of sexism and racism, it is not surprising that we remember Rosa Parks as demure and delicate, since the image of her sitting quietly with her hands folded politely in her lap is commonplace. However, if we get beyond our stereotypical expectations of who a Black woman can be, we bear witness to her steely grace and steadfast commitment to defending human dignity. She had been doing so for years before she ever got on that bus.