On Dec. 1, 1955, a churchgoing woman of character refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. Many credit Rosa Parks’ courageous action that day with launching the civil rights movement. While I have great respect for what Ms. Parks did that day, however, she did not start the civil rights movement. The movement began long before, and public opinion led the way.
Rosa Parks’ role was to serve as a catalyst converting the shifting public opinion into meaningful action. Martin Luther King Jr. then gave voice to that movement and made it an essential part of our national heritage.
We know that public opinion moved first because Rosa Parks had done the same thing on the same bus line 12 years earlier. But in 1943 nothing happened. Neither her community nor the nation was ready.
Between 1943 and 1955, there was massive change. Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Black soldiers came home from World War II and were not going to settle for the way things had been. The then-new technology of television turned a national spotlight on the Jim Crow South. That’s what laid the groundwork for the heroism of Rosa Parks. Even after she acted, it took a decade before Congress acted.