A Phenomenon of Rosa Parks
Black seamstress Rosa Louise Parks helped pioneer the civil rights movement in the United States by denying a white man a seat on a Montgomery city bus in 1955. The day Parks was pronounced guilty of violating the segregation laws, the leaders of the local black community organized a bus boycott led by young reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The boycott lasted more than a year, during which Parks lost her job at the local department store. Her husband also lost his job after being asked not to talk about his wife’s situation. The boycott ended only when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was unlawful and unconstitutional. (History.com Web. 1 Dec. 2016.)
Over the next fifty years, Parks became a nationally acclaimed symbol of dignity and vigor in the struggle to end deeply rooted racial prejudice and segregation. She has become the mother of the civil rights movement, and through her opposition and public support, has changed segregation laws forever. (History.com Web. 1 Dec. 2016).
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. She moved with her parents, James and Leona McCauley, at age two. Rosa’s family treasured education, as her mother was a teacher. Rosa moved to Montgomery, Alabama, at age 11. She attended high school there at a laboratory school at the Alabama State Teachers’ College for Negroes. She left early in 11th grade to care for her dying grandmother and, not long after, her chronically ill mother. At 19 she married a self-educated barber 10 years older than her, named Raymond Parks. He was a also a long-serving member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He encouraged Rosa to earn her high-school diploma, which she ended up doing the following year. Rosa worked as a seamstress, and together they became well known members of Montgomery’s large African-American community. However, trying to co-exist with white people in a city controlled by Jim Crow Laws was a struggle, to say the least.
In December 1943, Rosa also joined the Montgomery division of the NAACP, although her husband had at one time discouraged her out of fear for her safety. She became secretary of that branch not long after. She worked closely with the district president, Edgar Daniel Nixon. (History.com Web. 1 Dec. 2016) Nixon was a railroad employee, known in the city as an spokesperson for blacks who wanted to register to vote, and also as president of the local branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union. Nixon was looking for a way to publicly dispute the city’s segregation laws. (History.com Web. 1 Dec. 2016)
42-year-old Rosa Parks was taking the bus home after a long day of work at the Montgomery Fair department store on Thursday, December 1, 1955. Segregation was written into law; the front of a Montgomery bus was restricted to white people only, and the seats behind them for blacks. However, it was only common practice for bus drivers to show their authority and ask a black person to give up a seat for a white rider. (Academy of Achievement Web. 1 Dec. 2016.) At one point on the bus route, a white man had no seat because all the seats in the designated white section were filled. So, in turn, the driver told the riders in the four seats of the first row of the colored section to give up their seats, in effect adding another row to the white section. The three other blacks obeyed. Parks did not. 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 Parks:My Story). Eventually, two police officers approached the stopped bus, evaluated the situation, and placed Parks under arrest.
Even though Parks used her one phone call to contact her husband, news of her arrest had circulated quickly, and E.D. Nixon was there when Parks was let go on bail later that night. Nixon had hoped for years to find a fearless and daring black person of unchallenged honesty and integrity to testify in a case that might test the lawfulness of segregation laws. (Academy of Achievement Web. 1 Dec. 2016) Sitting in Parks’ home, Nixon convinced her, her husband, and her mother that she could be that plaintiff. On December 5, Parks was found guilty of violating segregation laws and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs. Nixon and some ministers decided to take advantage of the momentum from Parks’ arrest. They created the Montgomery Improvement Association to manage the boycotts, and they elected Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the MIA’s leader. (Biography.com Web. 1 Dec. 2016.)
As retrials and related lawsuits filtered their way through the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, the boycott ignited rage in much of Montgomery’s white population, as well as some violence, and Nixon’s and Dr. King’s homes were bombed. (Biography.com Web. 1 Dec. 2016) On November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was against the constitution; the boycott ended December 20, the day after the Court’s orders arrived in Montgomery.
Parks eventually decided to move in with her brother in Detroit, along with her husband and mother, after facing continued harassment and intimidation in the wake of the boycott. (Parks 50) Parks became an administrative aide in the Detroit office of Congressman John Conyers Jr. in 1965, a post she held until her 1988 withdrawal. In the years after her retirement, she traveled to lend her support to civil-rights rallies and motivate change, and wrote an autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story. In 1999, Parks was bestowed with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the United States awards to a civilian. She became the first woman in the nation’s history to be buried in state at the U.S. Capitol when she died at age 92 on October 24, 2005. (Presidency.Edu Web. 1 Dec. 2016).
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