NBC's Jamie Gangel talks to Rosa Parks about her new book. Parks reflects on the day in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to white passengers, which ultimately led to her arrest.
The Significance of Rosa Parks' Simple Act
BRYANT GUMBEL, co-host:
Long after she changed the course of American history, Rosa Parks remains the classic example of how one person can make a difference. Back in 1955, Parks sparked this country's civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Now at the age of 79, she's written her first book, called "Rosa Parks: My Story." Today's national correspondent Jamie Gangel is at our NBC News bureau in Washington with more. Good morning, Jamie.
JAMIE GANGEL reporting:
Good morning, Bryant. Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat changed the course of history, and she says she wrote her book to keep that history alive for young people who no longer remember or understand what the South was like.
Were you scared that day?
Ms. ROSA PARKS: I don't recall feeling any great fear. However, I felt more determined, and I think I must have pushed any fear out of my mind at the time when I had to face arrest.
GANGEL: Rosa Parks was arrested and fined for violating segregation laws. But her stand became a catalyst.
Mr. ANDREW YOUNG: What Rosa Parks did was significant because of who she was. When she was thrown in jail, then everybody said, `Well, if Rosa Parks can't be treated right on a bus, nobody can be treated right on a bus,' and she was the kind of person who had the total respect of the community, and they rallied around her and started a movement.
GANGEL: Within weeks, Montgomery's black community organized a yearlong bus boycott, and it was also Mrs. Parks' act that drew a young black minister to the forefront of civil rights leadership.
Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr. (On Prerecorded Tape): I've been engaged in a non-violent protest against indignities and injustices experienced on city buses.
GANGEL: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then only 27 years old became the leader of the boycott.
YOUNG: Mrs. Parks was just a sweet woman who created a situation that Martin Luther King had to respond to. Martin Luther King was not looking to be a civil rights leader, but he couldn't say no to Rosa Parks.
GANGEL: It was also a defining moment for the civil rights movement. Bus boycotts spread throughout the South.
Unidentified Man 1: I, for one, under God, will die before I...
GANGEL: In cities like Tallahassee, these were typical confrontations.
Unidentified Man 2: Since the Negro leaders refused all the compromises offered by the City Commission, we've come to the conclusion that the Negro leaders don't want to settle the boycott.
Unidentified Man 3: Now that the bus company has deserted us, ours is not a white and black battle. Instead, it is a struggle between justice and injustice.
GANGEL: Justice won a year later when the Supreme Court struck down the
Segregation laws. For Rosa Parks, it was a seat in the front of the bus. But because of threats and violence, she soon left Montgomery and moved to Detroit. For 37 years, Mrs. Parks has traveled all over the country telling her story, receiving honors and standing ovations. But there are still paradoxes. The Montgomery bus she was arrested on is now renamed the Rosa Parks bus. The street is called Rosa Parks Avenue. But the Confederate flag still flies over the Alabama State House.
PARKS: I am grateful that some progress has been made, and I am also concerned about the fact that there still remains the idea of white supremacy.
GANGEL: You feel that still has a long way to go?
PARKS: Yes, I do.
Synopsis: In 1955, civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Her action spurred African Americans to boycott, or refuse to ride, city buses. This boycott in turn started a successful nationwide campaign to end segregation of public buildings and buses.