Black Women in History: Rosa Parks
What happens when one person takes a stand? When one person says enough is enough? When one person has a vision to change things for all of us? Their hopes and dreams become contagious, encouraging strength and unity to bring about change. Rosa Parks was a woman who by a singular act sprung the flood of reactions that aided the abolition of segregation in America.
Rosa Parks born on 4th February 1913, lived and grew up in Montgomery and experienced the times of the Jim Crow laws of the south, which segregated whites from blacks in every way possible. This included but was not limited to segregated restrooms, drinking fountains, education and transportation, reserving the best for whites and forcing black to make use of the worst facilities.
Rosa Parks became known as “The Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement” following her famous stand on December 1st, 1955. This was a day that marked a turn in history for black people. At the time segregation laws meant that the front rows on buses were reserved for white people whilst the back rows were for black people, however if there were no more seats left in the white section and a white person entered got on the bus, blacks were forced to give up their seats, stand or leave the bus.
Rosa Parks broke the law when she refused outright to give up her seat on the bus for a white man and was later arrested, charged and convicted of civil disobedience for not complying to the laws of segregation on public transport.
In her autobiography, Parks wrote,
“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 forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move. Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it.”
Following this event the NAACP sought the opportunity to ignite a civil rights movement led by its president, Edgar Nixon that planned to boycott public transport. Local church services informed members of the black community of the boycott, an advertisement was placed in the Montgomery Advertiser and an unanimous agreement was made between black people that they would boycott the buses until fair seating was arranged. This tactic proved to be highly effective since, at that time, statistics show that blacks made up 75 percent of the bus passengers.
The boycott ignited by Rosa Parks is one of the most impressive shows of black unity. 35,000 flyers announcing the bus boycott were distributed before the day of Rosa Parks’ trial, black people as agreed avoided bus transportation, a carpool made up of 300 cars was set up by volunteers, a downtown parking lot was created for the carpool to meet and transport people to different parts of town. The police reacted by arresting those who were waiting for rides, accusing them of loitering. Drivers were harassed with constant ticketing, plus drivers and passengers were both arrested on charges of operating and riding in cars that were overloaded. Despite this, the boycott lasted for an impressive of 381 days.
During the boycott Rosa Parks’ arrest and the black communities reaction inspired activists such as Edgar Nixon, Clifford Durr and Fred Gray to build a lawsuit challenging local and state laws regarding bus segregation. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court in February of 1956. Following the case filing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and 90 of his followers were arrested and charged with conspiring to conduct the boycott. The trial was publicized nationwide and helped to bring Dr. King’s crusade for civil rights to the attention of the entire nation. In June of 1956 a three judge panel made a ruling. It stated that the bus segregation laws in the city of Montgomery “deny and deprive plaintiffs and other Negro citizens similarly situated of the equal protection of the laws and due process of law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Browder v. Gayle, 1956). In November of 1956, segregation on buses was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, and was outlawed.
It is amazing to see how the bravery and stand of one person had such a huge effect on the community and essentially the future, our present day. Black women such as Rosa Parks paved the way for black people to have more constitutional rights and as black women we have a great exemplary figure to look up to whilst being proud of who we are.
For more information and images visit Rosa Parks Facts.