This photo shows Rosa Parks (second from right) with Martin Luther King Jr., Peter Seeger, Charis Horton and Ralph Abernathy at the 25th anniversary reunion of the Highlander Center.
Mrs. Parks was at the reunion because she had attended a training session at Highlander in the summer of 1955, studying the techniques and philosophy of nonviolent social change. The subject was of interest to her as a long-time, committed activist who had served as an officer of her local NAACP chapter for the previous 12 years.
By the time the above photograph was taken in 1957, Mrs. Parks' commitment to nonviolent social change had gained the attention of the world. On Dec. 1, 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, helping to spark the long bus boycott that would give focus to the growing civil rights movement and lead, less than a decade later, to the Civil Rights Act and the death of official segregation.
I've borrowed this photo from Highlander's archives as a reminder that Rosa Parks was not an accidental hero. The myth of the seamstress with the aching feet obscures the vital preparation and organization that transformed Rosa Parks' act of courage into a national movement. It was this preparation and organization — the efforts of groups like the Women's Political Council — that resulted in Mrs. Parks' becoming "the mother of the civil rights movement," instead of simply the latest in a long line of Black citizens harassed, imprisoned or even beaten for refusing to yield their seats on a Montgomery bus.
This New York Times obituary does a good job of explaining Rosa Parks' political intent, and the array of political force employed behind her symbolic act. Paul Loeb explains why this matters in "The real Rosa Parks."
Revolutions can be planned. The revolutionary changes that Rosa Parks helped to spark were not an accident of history or the result of miraculous intervention. Many brave, determined people organized and strategized, and one brave, determined lady gave their cause a sharpening symbol.
With hard work and courage, such things can be planned.