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So that others might also be free

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by Diane Larson
ButteNews.net

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free … so other people would be also free.” Rosa Parks.

 

December 1, 1955, is an important day for Americans and the Civil Rights Movement. Even though it happened more than 60 years ago the proper story of what took place that day is an important one to understand.

 

December 1, 1955, is the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. This event leads to the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, which led to a “political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery,” says Wikipedia. This led to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1956 that segregation is unconstitutional. 

 

The popular or common story that gets told about this day and Rosa Parks is that she was coming home from work and being very tired after a long day got on the bus and took her seat. Because of segregation laws, the buses were divided into the white section and the black section. The black section being at the back and white in the front. It is said that when Rosa got on the bus she took a seat in the front. When a white man got on the bus it was full and the bus driver asked Rosa to get up and she refused for which she was arrested.

 

This story does a great disservice to Rosa Parks. It tells the tale of a person who “spontaneously and with little thought for her own safety or self-interest, followed her conscience and refused to submit to unjust Jim Crow laws,” says context.com. This narrative tells the story of a person who willingly decided to break the law.

 

As stated earlier the bus seating was ruled by segregation laws. When Parks stepped on that bus, she did not sit in the front of the bus, but in reality, she sat in the first row of the section reserved for blacks. This is an important detail because it shows that “Park's defiance was not premeditated,” says context.com. Parks did not get on the bus that day with the intent of being arrested or at the very least disregarding the segregation rules.

 

Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist. She was born, Rosa Louise McCauley, in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913. Rosa attended a laboratory school, which is a school associated with a college, until the age of 16. “She left at 16, early in the 11th grade, because she needed to care for her dying grandmother and, shortly thereafter, her chronically ill mother,” says history.com.

 

Rosa met Raymond Parks, who was “a self-educated man 10 years her senior who worked as a barber,” says history.com. Raymond Parks was also a long time member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

 

In 1932, Rosa at the age of 19 married Raymond. Shortly after she got her high-school diploma. According to history.com Raymond and Rosa built a life together and became “respected members of Montgomery’s large African-American community.”

 

In 1943 Rosa joined the NAACP and became an active member. She was a chapter secretary for quite a time and worked closely with the chapter president Edgar Daniel (E.D.) Nixon. Nixon, a railroad porter, was known in the city as an advocate for “blacks who wanted to register to vote, and also as president of the local branch of Brotherhood of Sleeping Ccar Porters union,” says history.com.

 

On that day in December in 1955, when Rosa got on the bus she had no intent other than getting home after a long day. When the bus driver saw that there were no seats and asked the four people sitting in Rosa’s row to get up, “three others obeyed, Rosa did not,” says history.com. Keep in mind that this was in the black section.

 

In her biography, Rosa says, “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.”

 

Rosa was arrested and found guilty of violating segregation laws, given a suspended sentence and fined $10 plus $4 in court costs.

 

What Rosa did that day was not an isolated event or the first time a person of color refused to give up the seat, it wasn’t even the first time Rosa had a run-in with that particular bus driver. But it was the first time that it seemed possible, with the events that occurred and the person of Rosa Parks, to use her arrest as a way to fight the segregation laws. This was what E.D. Nixon had been waiting for.

 

In the home of the Parks that evening, “Nixon convinced Parks—her husband and mother—that Parks was the plaintiff,” according to history.com. Meaning that what happened to Rosa would be the perfect situation to bring a suit against the segregation laws, and Rosa the perfect plaintiff. One other idea that sprung from this meeting was the bus boycott.

 

That night, 35,000 flyers about the planned boycott, were created and sent home with school children the next day.

 

Participation in the boycott was much more successful than expected

 

“As appeals and related lawsuits wended their way through the courts, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the boycott engendered anger in much of Montgomery’s white population as well as some violence,” says history.com

 

Supreme Court ruling came down on November 13, 1956, stating that segregation was unconstitutional. On December 20, 1956, the written order arrived in Montgomery and the boycott was ended.

 

The year was a difficult one as most battles are. Even though the outcome was good much damage fell on the Parks. Rosa lost her job, and homes of persons involved were bombed and harassment filled the year.

 

The Parks were forced to move and ended in up Detroit, Michigan. She became an administrative aide in the office of Congressman John Conyers Jr. from 1965 until her retirement in 1988.

 

In the late 1970s Rosa lost her husband, brother, and mother to cancer. Following her retirement, she traveled and lent her support to civil-rights events and causes.

 

Rosa won the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, which is the highest honor given to a United States civilian. When she passed away On October 24, 2005, “she became the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol,” says history.com.

 

Rosa Parks wasn’t just a seamstress who got on a bus one day and took a wrong seat. She was a life-long activist who fought for civil-rights and used her story with the hopes that it would play a role in creating a better world.

 

“Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” Rosa Parks

 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (ca. 1955) Mrs. Rosa Parks altered the negro progress in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, by the bus boycott she began. National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882 (Box 93). Source: Ebony Magazine


 


 

 

 

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