Defend democracy in the South.

Charlie Cobb, a key organizer in the civil rights movement who conceived the idea of "freedom schools" to bring real education to dispossessed black children in Mississippi, sent these short thoughts on the importance of Rosa Parks:

381 Days: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

"Sick and tired of being sick and tired," as Fannie Lou Hamer once said, Rosa Parks was fed up with racial insult and on December 1, 1955, refused to surrender her seat to the white man who demanded it on a public bus in Montgomery Alabama. She was arrested.

This was not the first challenge to racial segregation in Montgomery or in America, but this time Rosa Parks' challenge lit a fire that powerful winds of disatisfaction spread through the community.

Almost a century of post-slavery insult and oppression was the tinder for those flames. But also, the times too were changing; history was asserting itself to right old wrongs. And at the pivot point of history in Montgomery was one woman in one seat on one bus.

There was no great long range plan; just a decision to act. Some 50,000 black citizens united for a one-day bus boycott and realized that victory would be neither easy nor quick. At great personal sacrifice, they then held the line ≠against bombs, police harassment and other acts of violence and intimidation≠ for 380 more days.

This story, ≠like freedom, ≠ is rooted in specifics: a people, a place, a time, and ≠also like freedom ≠it rises above all of these. It makes self-evident a basic truth that no democracy can afford to ignore or forget if it is to survive: freedom, equality, and justice must be for all.

The Montgomery bus boycott turned local news into international headlines, local leaders into national symbols, and a local protest strategy into inspiration for a national grassroots civil rights movement that changed America and touched the world.

Charlie Cobb

Chris Kromm

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Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.

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