A couple of years ago my niece was in kindergarten and learning about the Civil Rights movement. I remember her telling me all about Rosa Parks and how people wanted to take her seat on the bus and how it wasn’t fair. She should be able to sit down. She didn’t really grasp the whole complexity of the issue, but her 5 year old sense of what was right said it all.
When I was in elementary school in the early 1970s, I also remember learning about Rosa Parks. She was riding the bus home after a hard days work. Her feet were sore and sitting down felt good. A white man demanded her seat because the distorted laws of the day said he could. But, she refused to leave her seat. She was thrown in jail for her defiance and fined $14 which probably was a good size sum in 1955.
Our textbook version of Rosa Parks is a little distorted. We never learned that she was active in the NAACP and had taken part in acts of civil disobedience prior to the bus incident. However, on that day in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to get out of her bus seat, something changed in America. That simple act of standing up for herself and for what is right sparked a movement that spread like wildfire. A boycott of the bus system was ordered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was unknown at the time. That boycott lasted 381 days, made Rosa Parks a symbol, and propelled Martin Luther King Jr. onto the nation scene and towards greatness. Although people were already mounting small protests in the US, that day Rosa Parks changed the course of history. In 1956, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in the transportation system was unconstitutional. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Jim Crow laws were overturned at the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land.
I think about what Rosa Parks did and how much courage it took for her to stay in her seat. She had to know that people would do everything in their power to make her life miserable. After that day, she had trouble finding work. She was seen as a trouble maker and her life was threatened. She eventually left Alabama for Michigan where she became an aide to Representative John Conyers.
Rosa Parks died of natural causes–she was 92. She is one of our most revered and beloved public figures. She had a quiet strength that always shined through and she will be greatly missed. I don’t remember a world without Rosa Parks. Her story is intertwined with the history of America. You can’t think of the greatness of our nation without mentioning Rosa Parks.