Ironically, Rosa Parks took a stand by sitting down. On December 1, 1955, the 42-year-old seamstress was commuting home from her job at Montgomery Fair department store on the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama, when the bus driver James Blake told her to move to the back of the bus so that a white person could take her seat.
Technically, Parks wasn’t sitting in the first 10 rows, which were reserved for white people. But as the bus got crowded, the driver had expanded the section for white people and asked everyone in Parks’ row to move back.
The other three African Americans obliged, but Parks sat still. That defiance landed her in jail — but also set her on a trajectory as one of the most influential civil rights activists in American history.
Though she was released on bail that same night, the African American community bonded together to stay off busses on December 5, 1955, the day of Parks’ trial, as a show of solidarity — and they continued to stay off busses for 381 days, which came to be known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The impact was felt by the community — and the bus system. And on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court declared that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional.
But Parks’ fight didn’t end there. While she suffered both financial and health hardships in the years following the boycott and moved to Detroit, she still fought for equality. She worked for African American Congressman John Conyers and even got Martin Luther King Jr. — who Parks had worked with during the boycotts — to come to Detroit to endorse Conyers.
She recounted her life in a 1992 autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, and followed it up with another memoir, Quiet Strength, in 1995. A year after that, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and then the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997.
While she died at 92 on October 24, 2005, her legacy as one of the most influential African American women of our time remains. Here are 16 of her most memorable quotes:
On the bus: “I’d see the bus pass every day. But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a Black world and a white world.”
On why she stayed in her seat: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically … No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
On taking a stand: “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”
On the boycott: “During the Montgomery bus boycott, we came together and remained unified for 381 days. It has never been done again. The Montgomery boycott became the model for human rights throughout the world.”
On racial violence: “Our freedom is threatened every time one of our young people is killed by another child… every time a person gets stopped and beaten by the police because of the color of their skin.”
On healing: “Have you ever been hurt and the place tries to heal a bit, and you just pull the scar off of it over and over again.”
On how to live: “It is better to teach or live equality and love ... than to have hatred and prejudice.”
On courage: “We must have courage — determination — to go on with the task of becoming free — not only for ourselves, but for the nation and the world — cooperate with each other. Have faith in God and ourselves.”
On conquering fear: “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
On taking a step: “There were times when it would have been easy to fall apart or to go in the opposite direction, but somehow I felt that if I took one more step, someone would come along to join me.”
On freedom: “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”
On racism: “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.”
On life and death: “Life is to be lived to its fullest so that death is just another chapter. Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
On setting an example: “Each person must live their life as a model for others.”
On optimism: “I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day, but I don’t think there is any such thing as complete happiness.”
On her legacy: “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free ... so other people would be also free.”