With Rosa Parks Day, Alabama moves toward recognition of its true heroes

This past Saturday, the state of Alabama marked its first Rosa Parks Day.

It was a significant step toward recognizing the state's prominent civil rights activists.

Sixty-three years ago – on Dec. 1, 1955 – Parks was arrested and jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

During a ceremony at Alabama State University, historian Rolundus Rice called it the “most faithful and fortuitous arrest of the 20th century.”

We all know what happened next: Dr. King led a yearlong bus boycott that ignited the civil rights movement. And a federal lawsuit led the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw Alabama’s segregated buses.

When she died in 2005, Parks became the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature voted 102-0 to proclaim Dec. 1 as Rosa Parks Day, making it the fifth state to honor her.

It’s long overdue.

Still, Rosa Parks Day is not an official state holiday in Alabama – unlike Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis’ Birthday.

Each of those days are paid holidays for public employees.

Alabama is not alone in continuing to pay homage to the Confederacy with state holidays. In our most recent Whose Heritage? report, we found that five states observe nine holidays commemorating the Confederacy.

In addition, there remain more than 1,700 monuments and other Confederate symbols in public spaces across the South and the nation. They were installed over many decades to glorify the Confederacy and white supremacy – and, for the most part, to promote a false narrative about the Civil War.

The Civil War ended 153 years ago. And the Confederacy, as former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said, was on the “wrong side of humanity.”

We believe it’s long past time for the South to bury the myth of the Lost Cause and to celebrate “the South’s real heroes,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called civil rights activists like Rosa Parks.

Photo by Hannah Baldwin