Sixty five years ago, Rosa Parks stood up for civil rights by sitting down. A simple act of defiance elevated a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, into a pivotal symbol in America’s civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks was on her way home from work one evening when the bus driver, James F. Blake’s ordered her to vacate a row of four seats in the ‘black’ section of the bus in favour of a white passenger. Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the city bus and as a result of this action was arrested and convicted of disorderly conduct four days later.
Little did the 42-year-old know that a simple act of bravery would help end segregation laws in the south because this event triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by black people which was organized by a 26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Her case became bogged down in the state courts, which resulted in a November 1956 decision that bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Rosa Parks’ act of defiance and the subsequent Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks subsequently became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. When she was later asked how she would like to be remembered, Rosa Parks said, ‘I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would also be free.
Since Rosa Parks’ action we have come a long way, in standing up for human rights and freedom. As a society we still have a long way to go because according to United Nations estimates, 40.3 million people are still trapped in modern slavery, including 24.9 in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage based on United Nations estimates. Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million people in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million people in forced labour imposed by state authorities.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.
Each one of us has an opportunity to play our part in ending slavery and bringing about freedom. So, regardless of the kind of work we find ourselves engaged in, let’s make ‘𝐟𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐝𝐨𝐦’ a key component in our service to society. Let’s always ask ourselves the question, ‘how can the work that I am doing contribute to freedom in one way or another?’ and just like Rosa Parks, our committment to simple acts of change for an inclusive society, will make the world a better place.
So, as we reflect on this ‘International Day of the Abolition of Slavery’ let’s take this opportunity to be remembered as people who worked for a society that is equal for all.