by Rod D. Martin
October 31, 2005

Picture this:

It’s the evening rush hour, the buses are packed, and there aren’t enough seats to go around.

So who sits and who stands?

Well, that’s easy, you say. The rule is “first-come-first-served.” Those who boarded first will snag a seat. Those who came last won’t. Maybe a seated gentleman or two will let a lady sit.

But that’s not how it was fifty years ago, in Montgomery, Alabama, or wherever else Jim Crow reigned.

If you were black, it didn’t matter when you boarded your bus.

If you were seated, you could be forced to stand so a white person could sit. Or, you could be arrested, thrown into jail, deprived of your freedom, your job, your ability to feed your family.

Today such things are illegal — not to mention unthinkable — thanks largely to Rosa Parks, who died this October 24th at the age of 92.

But it’s not just one ridiculous, wicked bus law Parks’ courage swept away. Jim Crow’s entire legal edifice — every aspect of compulsory segregation and discrimination — has been consigned to history’s ash heap, by America’s civil rights movement and by the millions of Americans of every color who stood and stand together for a better way.

December 1st will mark the 50th anniversary of the day when Parks, then a 42-year-old seamstress, helped ignite that movement by refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a rude, ill-mannered white man.

She was indeed arrested and convicted, but then appealed her verdict while local civil rights groups, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., launched a crippling boycott of Montgomery’s buses.

That boycott lasted a full year, until the case wound its way to the United States Supreme Court, which finally ruled in Parks’ favor, ended the buses’ segregation, and opened a whole new era.

The civil rights movement spawned in Montgomery was breathtakingly revolutionary. It freed America to become what it always should have been, to live out and live up to its foundational creed that all people are equally valued by their Creator, and thus must be treated accordingly. And in realizing equal opportunity for all, the movement also propelled most African Americans into our country’s broad middle class — record numbers are even millionaires — giving them the economic freedom necessary to enjoy those political liberties they’d so dearly won.

Such is the proud, empowering legacy of Rosa Parks’ — and Dr. King’s — belief that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Sadly, no sooner was that belief enshrined in our law than it began to be subverted, ironically enough by the very civil rights leaders who supposedly stood for it. Even before Dr. King’s death, they came to favor equality of outcome not opportunity, championing race-based quotas in college admissions and hiring decisions. Moreover, they came to blame every lingering problem in America on racism, even when racism was not the issue at all.

Few such problems were as great as the seeming intractability of the black underclass, the small minority of African Americans trapped in multigenerational welfare dependency, unwed motherhood, drug addiction and crime.

In a too-sad twist, in 1994, that underclass’ world collided with Rosa Parks herself: the noble 81-year old lady was beaten by a 28-year old black man who invaded her home to take $53.

Clearly, racism was not the problem. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. The civil rights gurus just refused to see it.

Just two years later, our nation began debating another landmark act, welfare reform. It was designed to free the underclass from the clutches of dependency and pathology, by restoring conservative values of responsibility and work to a system out of control.

Only over the hysterical objections of Jesse Jackson and other race-baiting leaders was this greatest act of the Gingrich Congress ultimately signed into law.

But what civil rights did for black workers, welfare reform is now doing for the black underclass. In just a few short years, it gave vast numbers of welfare-dependant blacks the hope and dignity of a job: 73% of all welfare recipients in Mississippi, 91% in Wisconsin, and so on across America. During the Bush years alone, black unemployment has dropped 25%, while black business and home ownership have both shot off the charts.

Welfare reform and the Bush economic policy of ownership and opportunity for all are empowering and uplifting an entire generation. And they’re helping entire communities rebound, with every form of social pathology now in decline, even violent crime.

Make no mistake. Black America has progressed mightily since Rosa Parks said “no” to injustice fifty years ago. And its progress has advanced — and improved — us all.

May God rest her soul.