Rosa Parks

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Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African American civil rights activist. She was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. The United States Congress recognized her as “The First Lady of Civil Rights” and “The Mother of the Freedom Struggle.” On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, refused a bus driver’s order to relinquish a row of four seats in the colored section in favor of a white passenger once the white section was full. The Parks Act and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became iconic emblems of the civil rights movement.

 She became an international symbol of racial segregation opposition. She worked with civil rights leaders such as Edgar Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. By day, Parks worked as a seamstress at a local department shop. Strangely, she also suffered as a result of her actions and was terminated from her employment. She also received death threats for years. She relocated to Detroit after the boycott and found comparable work. Then, from 1965 through 1988, she worked as a secretary and receptionist for John Conyers, an African American United States Representative. She also advocated for political prisoners in the United States. After retiring, Parts penned her autobiography and insisted that there was still work to be done in the fight for justice. When she died in 2005, she was the first woman to be laid to rest in the Capitol Rotunda.

Background

Leona McCauley, her mother, was a teacher, and James McCauley, her father, was a carpenter. She was only a child when she suffered from chronic tonsillitis. She was still very young when she had to go through the trauma of the divorce of her parents.  She relocated to Pine Level with her mother (outside the state capital, Montgomery) where she was raised on a farm by her maternal grandparents, mother and younger brother Sylvester. Her mother taught her to sew at a young age. She began piecing quilts together with her mother and grandmother when she was six years old. She made her first quilt when she was about ten years old. Quilting was primarily a family activity done when there was no field labor.

Until the age of 11 she attended rural schools (Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school created by liberal-minded women from the northern United States). In school, she learned more about sewing, designing and wearing her own clothing. She also pursued academic and vocational studies and  continued her schooling at a laboratory school for secondary education. However, when her mother and grandmother grew ill, she was forced to drop out to care for them.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the former Confederate states implemented electoral laws that effectively underrepresented African voters. In the South, racial segregation was imposed in public facilities and retail businesses, including public transportation. Bus and train companies split blacks and whites into different sections. Black pupils had no access to school bus transportation.

Rosa Parks described her youth in Pine Level, where white children were transported to school by a bus while Black pupils had to walk. She asserted:

“I would see the bus every day… but to me, that was a way of life we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a Black world and White world.”

She had early memories of white strangers’ generosity, but she couldn’t ignore her society’s bigotry. When a neighbor arrived at the street in front of their house, she told her grandfather to stand guard with a shotgun at the front door. She was routinely bullied by white children in her neighborhood, and she frequently fought back physically, as she later admitted.

“As far as I remember, I could never think in terms of accepting physical abuse without some form of retaliation if possible.”

In 1932, Rosa Parks married Raymond Parks. He used to work as a barber in Montgomery. He was an NAACP member (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – a civil rights organization based in the United States that was founded in 1909. It is an inter-racial endeavor to improve African American justice). During this time, money was being raised to help the Scottsboro Boys, a group of Black men wrongly accused of raping two white women. Rosa worked as a domestic servant, a hospital assistant, and in other positions. In 1933, at the request of her husband, she completed her high school education. It was a time when just around 7% of African Americans obtained a high school diploma.

 Parks later became involved in the Civil Rights Movement in December 1943. She became a member of the NAACP Montgomery chapter. He was elected secretary during a time when this was thought to be a woman’s profession, she subsequently stated.

“I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary and I was too timid to say no.”

She stayed on as a secretary until 1957. She worked for a local leader named Edgar Nixon, who used to argue that women should spend their time in the kitchen and not anywhere else. Then Parks inquired, “How about me?” “I need a secretary, and you are a terrific one,” he said. In this role, she helped investigate the gang rape of Recy Taylor (a young Black woman) and other crimes against African Americans. Five years later, she assisted in the organization of protests in support of Gertrude Perkins (a Black woman who was raped by two white Montgomery police officers.) Despite the fact that she was never a member of the Communist Party, she did attend meetings with her husband.

Parks and her husband were members of the League of Women Voters in the 1940s. In August 1955, a Black teenager was brutally murdered in Mississippi for flirting with a young white woman. Parks was devastated and enraged by the news because the case had received far more publicity than any of the cases, she and the Montgomery and NAACP had worked on. Despite this, the two men were able to walk free.

Following the death of her husband in 1977, Mrs. Parks established the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. Pathways to Freedom, an annual summer program for youths, is sponsored by this institute.

The young people in the program travel across the country in buses, accompanied by adults, learning about their country’s history and the civil rights fight. In 1996 and 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded Rosa Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional gold medal respectively.

After retirement, she was questioned if she was content with his life. Rosa Parks responded, “I do my best to approach life with optimism and hope, looking forward to a brighter day,” but “I don’t believe there is such a thing as perfect happiness. It concerns me that there is still a lot of Klan activity and prejudice in the world. When you say you’re happy, I believe you mean you have all you need and want, and nothing more to wish for. That stage has not yet been achieved by me.”

Bus Laws and Customs

In Montgomery, there was racial segregation in buses in 1900, and race conductors were required to assign seats to achieve that purpose. If the bus was crowded and no other seats were available, no passenger would be obliged to relocate or give up their seat and stand, according to the legislation. Later on, Montgomery bus drivers began ordering Black travelers to move when there were no white-only seats available. The bus’s first four rows of seats were allocated for white passengers, while Black passengers could sit in the middle rows until the white section was filled.

If there were more whites than seats, blacks were to move to the back, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. For years, the Black community had protested about the unfairness of the situation. Parks stated,

“My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest. I did a lot of walking in Montgomery.”

Parks boarded a bus and paid the money one day in 1943. She then took a seat, but driver Blake instructed her to observe city regulations and re-enter the bus through the rear door. When Parks got out of the car, Blake drove away without her. Parks awaited the next bus, vowing never to ride with Blake again.

The Rose Park Story

On December 1, 1955, she paid her fare and sat in an unoccupied seat in the first row of back seats intended for blacks in Montgomery. And the most important person on the bus was again the same person, James F. Blake. As the bus traveled, all of the white-only seats onboard filled up. The bus arrived at the third stop. Blake noticed that two or three white passengers were standing, even though the front of the bus was full. Blake then arrived and requested that four Black passengers vacate their seats in the central part so that white passengers could sit. Three of the Black people relocated, but Parks did not. As a result, the Black man seated next to her vacated his seat. Blake then questioned her why she didn’t stand up. Parks replied stating, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” Blake warned her that he would contact the cops to have Parks arrested, but Parts remained seated. When Blake noticed she was still sitting, he inquired whether she was going to get up. Parks stated, “No, I’m not going to stand up,” and when Blake indicated he was going to call the cops, Parks added, “You may do that.”

She stated in her autobiography, Sharing My Story,

“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, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

A police officer arrested Parks after she refused to give up her seat. She was arrested and found guilty of violating a city ordinance, but her lone act of resistance sparked a movement that led to the end of legal segregation in America. It turned her into a symbol of freedom for people all around the world. Parks was accused of violating the Montgomery municipal code’s chapter 6, section 11 segregation law. Her actions spurred local Black community leaders to launch The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King, Jr., a young doctor at that time, led the movement. That boycott lasted for over a year.

Parks became a hero of the Civil Rights Movement after her arrest, but she suffered as a result. She was fired from her work at the department. Her husband was laid off from his work as a barber at Maxwell Air Force Base. She faced continuous death threats. So, in 1957, Rosa Parks and Raymond were compelled to leave Montgomery for Hampton, primarily due to lack of employment opportunities. Parks told an interviewer, “I don’t see much of a change here…” Housing segregation is just as problematic, and it appears to be more visible in larger cities. Martin Luther King later recruited her as a secretary. She held this role until her retirement in 1988.

Rosa Park Museum

The Rosa Park Museum is a cutting-edge museum illustrating the events that sparked the bus boycott and the early Civil Rights Movement. It provides an interactive, multimedia presentation, that follows the arch of a woman who helped change the course of history.

Death and Burial

Parks died on United Nations Day, 2005, at the age of 92, of natural causes in her home in Detroit. She had no children. She shared a home with her only sibling. Her sister-in-law, Raymond’s sister, 13 nieces and nephews, and their families, and many cousins survive her. Montgomery and Detroit stated on October 27, 2005, that the front seats of their city buses will be marked with Black ribbons in honor of Parks until her funeral.

One of the speakers, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, stated that she would not have become Secretary of State if it hadn’t been for Parks. The casket was taken to Washington D.C. in the evening by a bus similar to the one she in which she protested. Parks was the 31st person and the first American who had not been a U.S. Government official to be honored in this manner when the practice began in 1852. She was also the second private person to be honored in this manner and was the first woman and just the second Black person to be laid to rest in the nation’s capital. The casket was seen by an estimated 50,000 people, and the ceremony was televised on October 31, 2005. Her funeral service lasted seven hours and was held at the Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit on November 2, 2005. Parks was laid to rest in the Chapel mausoleum at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery, with her husband and mother. In her honor, the Chapel was renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel.

Rosa Parks Day is observed in California and Missouri on her birthday, February 4th. While Ohio and Oregon mark the one-year anniversary of her arrest on December 1st.

Who was Rosa Parks?

She was a civil rights activist of African American descent. She was most known for playing a critical role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was designated as the first lady of civil rights and the mother of the freedom struggle by the United States Congress.

What is Rosa Parks famous for?

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, she re-energized the fight for racial equality. On December 1, 1955, she was arrested. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which drew 17,000 Black individuals.

Why did Rosa Parks not give up her seat?

Parks, contrary to popular belief, was not physically weary and was able to leave her seat. She refused to give up her seat on principle because she did not believe in racial segregation, which was required under Montgomery law at the time. Parks was briefly imprisoned and fined.

What happened to Rosa Parks on the bus?

Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in contradiction to the city’s racial segregation rules. She was later imprisoned for her refusal.

Citations:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_Parks
  2. https://achievement.org/achiever/rosa-parks/
  3. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/rosa-parks
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