On 1 December, 1955, Rosa Parks (1913-2005) took her fateful bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama.
As the story is often told, Parks was a diminutive African-American seamstress who was weary from a long day of work at a downtown department store. Her feet ached, so when the driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white man who had just gotten on the bus, Parks refused, accidently setting into motion a series of events that led to the modern Civil Rights Movement.
The problem with the story, told in that way, is that it is grossly misleading.
Besides being a seamstress, Parks was a political organizer and activist, a member of the Montgomery Voters League and secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP. And while it’s true that Parks didn’t know when she boarded the bus that day that she would commit an act of civil disobedience, when the moment arose she knew what she was doing, and why. As Parks later wrote in her autobiography:
People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.