On this day in 1965, civil rights leader Rosa Parks stood up at a rally in Montgomery, Alabama and spoke her heart out.
She expressed the depths of her sorrow and anger over the country’s racial division and prejudice — but also her deepest hopes for reconciliation.
Just two weeks earlier, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma, hundreds of civil rights marchers had been brutally beaten by state troopers with clubs, whips, and rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire.
“I had to hide from the Ku Klux Klan to keep from getting killed. My family was deprived of the land they owned and driven off it.”
Now the demonstrators had reached their destination at the state Capitol and were waiting to hear from their leaders. Rosa Parks stood on the platform alongside the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“As a very small child I had to hide from the Ku Klux Klan to keep from getting killed,” she told the crowd. “My family was deprived of the land that they owned and driven off it after they had worked and paid for it. I did not have the opportunity to attend school as many have.”
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks has gone down in history as “the First Lady of the Movement.” Her refusal to sit in the back of a Montgomery municipal bus on December 1, 1955 has become one of the defining moments of the campaign for civil rights.
“There are decent people of every race and color. We are not in a struggle of black against white, but wrong and right.”
In addition to civil disobedience, she repeated used her public voice to challenge the race prejudice ingrained in social norms, and to express profound truths.
On March 25, 1965, she spoke about how the events in Selma had shaken her faith to the core. But the sight of so many people gathered peacefully gave her renewed hope, and ultimately her message was one of optimism.
“There are decent people of every race and color,” she said. “We are not in a struggle of black against white, but wrong and right.”
You can watch her entire remarks in this ABC News clip.
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