A Civil Rights Hero Turns 100

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Rosa Parks would have been 100 today. She passed away in 2005. When Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus on December 1, 1955 I don’t think anyone realized what a profound impact she would have on what we now recognize as Civil Rights. Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person and was arrested for violating the segregation laws known as “Jim Crow Laws”. After her arrest, African Americans organized a boycott against bus companies led by a young preacher by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted 381 days until the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Jim Crow laws were unconstitutional and that buses were to be desegregated. Ms. Parks’ refusal to give up her seat sparked a civil rights revolution.

But how did the case get to the United States Supreme Court or even find its way to the court system? The NAACP legal team decided to use the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1983, to file suit against the the Mayor of Montgomery, Alabama W.A. Gayle. (Ms. Parks was not a Plaintiff in the civil suit. Instead, the NAACP selected five other African Americans who had also been discriminated against on the buses.) 42 U.S.C. 1983 was originally enacted in 1871 to help the Federal government combat KKK attacks on African Americans. Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law. The law was later changed to allow private citizens to sue states, cities, or counties for money damages or injunctive relief.

The strategy paid off as the Alabama federal district court ruled inn June 1956, that “the enforced segregation of black and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery violates the Constitution and laws of the United States,” because the conditions deprived people of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court further enjoined the state of Alabama and city of Montgomery from continuing to operate segregated buses. The case was appealed all the way up to the United States Supreme Court but they refused to overturn the district court’s decision.

The Civil Rights Act can be used by any citizen (white, black, etc.) when their rights have been violated by the State. Over the past 18 years, I have filed numerous civil rights lawsuits alleging police brutality. My very first civil rights case was in 1995 against the City of Jackson. Our client’s teenage son was killed while being arrested for a misdemeanor. He was unarmed at the time. We were able to obtain a $2.1 million verdict for the family in federal court. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed (ruled in our favor) the verdict. The City of Jackson, just like the City of Montgomery, appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court but to no avail. We not only were awarded the $2.1 million but our attorneys fees and costs had to be paid by the City of Jackson as well.

As you can see, the Civil Rights Act has become a powerful tool for anyone whose rights have been violated by a State, County, or City. And just think, all this started when a few brave African Americans decided not to give up their seats on a bus in 1955. To learn more about Civil Rights, please visit our civil rights page on our website.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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