Rosa Parks: Civil Rights Activist

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English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...

Photographic Rosa Parks (ca. 1955) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though the slaves were freed after the Civil War, it wasn’t until 100 years later when black people were considered equal with white people. Until then, the blacks had to use separate water fountains, separate schools, and separate entrances. Minorities were discriminated against, especially in the South where the Jim Crow laws made “everything separate, but equal” – which actually meant the white citizens were the only first class citizens. And anyone who stood up against the racist laws would mysteriously disappear thanks to the KKK butthat all changed when one woman, Rosa Parks, refused to move to the back of the bus.

Rosa Parks, born Rosa Louise McCauley, was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. After her parents divorced, she and her mother moved in with Rosa’s maternal grandparents, two former slaves. On her way to her segregated one-room school, Rosa would watch as the school buses drove by with the white children; after all, black children were not provided school buses of their own to ride. In 11th grade, Rosa dropped out of school to take care of her sick mother and grandmother. In 1932, she met and married Raymond Parks, a barber and member of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. With her husband’s support, she earned her high school degree in 1933; at that time, only 7% of blacks graduated high school. In 1943, she became involved in civil rights issues by becoming the secretary and youth leader of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.

To get to work at the department store where she worked as a seamstress, Rosa took the city bus. The Montgomery City Code required that all public transportation be segregated. There was a sign in the middle of the bus that divided the bus: white passengers in the front and black passengers in the back. Though the law did not require black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers, bus drivers would still threaten the black passengers with the police if they refused. On December 1, 1955, Rosa took the seat in the first row of the black section of the bus after work. A few bus stops later, the us driver noticed white passengers standing in the aisle so he stopped the bus, moved the sign, and asked four of the black passengers to move to the back of the bus. Three of the passengers complained, but moved. Rosa repliaed “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” She was arrested.

Word of her arrest quickly spread through town. The president of the local chapter of the NAACP, E.D. Nixon, met with Rosa after she paid her bail and was released. Nixon and other leaders were waiting for the perfect plaintiff to take a trial to the supreme court and Rosa was perfect: she was married, employed, financially stable, mature, and quiet. It was determined that they would take her case to court and that there would be a bus boycott on the day of her trial. The first group to endorse the boycott was the Women’s Political Council. Rosa’s trial was to be on December 5th. On the day of her trial, she was found guilty of violating the local ordinance and fined $10. On that day it rained, yet 40,000 members of the black community walked to work, some walking as far as 20 miles. Due to the boycott’s importance, it was determined that there should be someone in charge of the bus boycott. The leaders of the black community elected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an unknown minister.

For months the buses remained empty since blacks made up 75% of bus riders. King and Nixon both had their homes destroyed by bombing and many protesters were arrested for boycotting. Rosa and her husband lost their jobs and moved to Detroit, Michigan. In June 1956, the district court declared Jim Crow laws to be unconstitutional. The city of Montgomery appealed, but the U.S. Supreme court upheld the lower court’s ruling on November 13, 1956. The boycott ended on December 20, 1956 after Montgomery lifted its segregation of buses. In the 1960’s, several laws passed to prohibited segregation laws throughout the United States.

As for Rosa, she became a secretary in the U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton and when she died on October 24, 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda. Millions of blacks were waiting for years for the moment when they would be considered equal. When Rosa Parks, an average woman, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, the local black leaders realized that it was now the time to take a stand against the Jim Crow laws. The boycott was organized and future Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. was put in charge of the boycott. Because of Rosa Parks, white and black children can ride the school bus together.

Sources:

Rosa Parks. biography

Rosa Parks

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