Mid-20th century America was a time filled with racial injustice and prejudice- it was also the time where civil rights began and revolutionized the treatment of those of colour. Rosa Park was a huge asset in the civil rights movement due to her confidence and strength against those who oppressed her.
Rosa Parks (Birth name: Rosa Louise McCauley) was born on the 4th of February 1914 in Tuskegee, Alabama. At the age of 2, she moved with her parents to live with her Grandparents. Sylvester, her younger brother was born a year later, shortly after his birth her parents separated. When she was 11, she moved to Montgomery, Alabama. She attended school there, a laboratory school at the Alabama State Teachers’ College (for Black People). Due to her Grandmother’s deteriorating health, she had to leave high school early (at age 16). Her mother developed a chronic illness around the same time. She then married Raymond Parks, who was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People- NAACP. Rose then went to earn her high school diploma the following year.
What was life like for a person of colour in the 19th century?
Prejudice and racism plagued every aspect of life, despite the claim of freedom stamped onto black people’s lives. A key factor of this was the “Jim Crow” laws, which emphasized the acceptance and normalization of segregation between white people and black people. Segregations were everywhere- in the bus, train stations, water fountains, cemeteries, elevators, building entrances even the restroom. This mistreatment spread all over America and fuelled racist behaviour. Constant belittling and injustice lead to the Civil Rights movement from 1954- 1968.
Rosa Parks sits on a Bus
Around December 1943, Rosa Parks became a member of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, she worked as a chapter secretary. This was one of her first actions to helps the Civil rights movement. Around 12 years later, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks comes back from a tiring day of work. Rosa decided to go on a municipal bus back home, the bus had been arranged to belittle those from the black community. The bus was set up so that the front of the bus was reserved for white people and the seats behind them for black citizens. Despite this, the law itself gave no one, not even the bus driver permission to force someone out of the seat even if there was no other seat available. Nevertheless, when a white man boarded the bus and the seats had filled, the driver removed 4 seats from the coloured row. Three people stood up; Rosa was not one of them.
When reflecting on the incident in her autobiography: My Story (1992) Rosa explained;
‘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… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.’
After some time, two police officers approach the stopped bus and placed Rosa in custody. Rosa was released later that evening. Her trial was held on December 5, she was found guilty of violating segregation laws, and therefore given a suspended sentence and fined $14 around £112 today.
No one sits on the bus
On the day of Rosa’s trial, it had been planned to start the infamous Montgomery bus boycott. 35,000 had been given out the night of the trial and the turnout was exceptional, no one got on the bus. The boycott itself lasted 351 days during the boycott, appeals and related lawsuits found their way to the courts, all the way to the US Supreme Court.
The Boycotts angered some of the white population who were living in Montgomery at the time, which resulted in violence. Despite this, the boycotters continued strong, and the drama gained the attraction of the national and international press. On November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional. When the written order arrived at Montgomery ( December 20th ) did the boycott finally end.
Rosa Parks became known as “the mother of the civil rights movement”.
What happened after the boycott?
Rosa no longer had a job and received harassment and threats consistently. She decided to, along with her mother and husband, move to Detroit where her brother resided. Rosa got a job as an ‘Administrative aide’ in the Detroit office of Congressman John Conyers Jr. Her post lasted until her retirement in 1988. During this time, her husband, brother, and mother all passed away due to cancer. A year before her retirement, she co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self- Development, to serve Detroit’s youth- giving them opportunities she never had.
Despite her old age, and the myriad of pain and struggle she had gone through, Rosa never stopped fighting, never stopped aiding the rebellion against the world’s views and thoughts. During the years after her retirement, she travelled to support civil-rights events and causes. She even wrote an autobiography simply titled; Rosa Parks: My story. In 1999, Rosa received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honour the United States bestows on a civilian. On October 24, 2005, Rosa passed away, age 92. Another name was bestowed upon her as she died, the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in honour at the U.S. Capitol.
Why was/is/will Rosa Parks be inspirational?
Rosa Parks was a remarkable woman who fought for her rights, and the rights of others until the moment she passed on. A person who did something so irrelevant from a distance drastically changed the treatment of people everywhere. She was so much more than a symbol of civil rights, she was the living embodiment for everything humans should stand for strength, belief, determination. We can only hope to remember her for the extraordinary woman she was;
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free so other people would also be free”- Rosa Parks