UNIT 1 – DREAMS COME TRUE
AN ACHIEVEMENT - Rosa Parks
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African-American civil rights activist, who the U.S. Congress called "the first lady of civil rights", and "the mother of the freedom movement".
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks, aged 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
Parks' action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Parks' act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.
Although widely honored in later years for her action, she suffered for it, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store.
Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she found similar work.
Under Jim Crow laws, black and white people were segregated in virtually every aspect of daily life in the South, including public transportation. Bus and train companies did not provide separate vehicles for the different races but did enforce seating policies that allocated separate sections for blacks and whites. School bus transportation was unavailable in any form for black schoolchildren in the South.
Parks recalled going to elementary school in Pine Level, where school buses took white students to their new school and black students had to walk to theirs: "I'd see the bus pass every day... But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. It rained that day, but the black community persevered in their boycott. Some rode in carpools, while others traveled in black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, 10 cents. Most of the remainder of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles (30 km). In the end, the boycott lasted for 381 days. Dozens of public buses stood stopped for months, severely damaging the bus transit company's finances, until the law requiring segregation on public buses was lifted.”
Some segregationists retaliated with terrorism. Black churches were burned or dynamited. Martin Luther King's home was bombed in the early morning hours of January 30, 1956, and E.D. Nixon's home was also attacked. However, the black community's bus boycott marked one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation. It sparked many other protests, and it catapulted King to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.
Rosa Parks also detailed her motivation in her autobiography, My Story:
“ 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. ”
Although Parks' autobiography recounts that some of her earliest memories are of the kindness of white strangers, her situation made it impossible to ignore racism. When the Ku Klux Klan marched down the street in front of her house, Parks recalls her grandfather guarding the front door with a shotgun. The Montgomery Industrial School, founded and staffed by white northerners for black children, was burned twice by arsonists, and its faculty was ostracized by the white community.
In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery, at her mother's house. Raymond was a member of the NAACP, at the time collecting money to support the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black men falsely accused of raping two white women.
After her marriage, Rosa took numerous jobs, ranging from domestic worker to hospital aide. At her husband's urging, she finished her high school studies in 1933, at a time when less than 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma. Despite the Jim Crow laws that made political participation by black people difficult, she succeeded in registering to vote on her third try.
Parks worked as a seamstress until 1965 when African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers hired her as a secretary and receptionist for his congressional office in Detroit. She held this position until she retired in 1988.
The 1970s was a decade of loss and suffering for Parks, though more due to personal problems than racism or other social issues. Her family was plagued with illness; she and her husband had suffered stomach ulcers for years and both required hospitalization.
In 1992, Parks published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography aimed at younger readers which details her life leading up to her decision not to give up her seat. In 1995, she published her memoirs, titled Quiet Strength, which focuses on the role that her faith had played in her life.
Parks lived in Detroit until she died of natural causes at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005, in her apartment on the east side of the city.
She and her husband never had children.