Rosa Parks Remembered

civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks, segregation

Rosa Parks with the great Dr. Martin Luther King in the background.

If you’ve been on Google today, you may have noticed their logo. The graphic depicts four children, two of whom are black, holding hands and skipping as they exit a bus. It’s in honor of Rosa Parks who refused to listen to a Montgomery, Alabama bus driver when he told her to give up her seat to a white passenger exactly 55 years ago today. Her refusal sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an integral development in the civil rights movement.

After hearing that today was the 55th anniversary of Rosa’s defiance, I consulted our old, donation-seeking friend, Wikipedia, to refresh my memory of the historical day, as well as to pay homage to Rosa, herself.

I had forgotten that the boycott lasted for over a year. It began on December 1, 1955, when Parks decided she’d rather sit in a jail cell than stand on a bus, and didn’t end until December 20, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court finally decided that the Alabama law which called for segregated buses was unconstitutional. Many prominent figures in the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, were heavily involved in the boycott, which financially crippled the Montgomery public transit system.

Even before her arrest sparked the boycott, Rosa Parks was very active in the civil rights movement. She was the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and had also attended a school in Tennessee where, among other things, the tactic of non-violent civil-disobedience was widely discussed.

Interestingly, Parks had experienced a run-in on a public bus once before in 1943. The driver, James F. Blake, told Parks that she had to enter the bus through the doors at the back, only to drive off before she could do as she was instructed. Parks vowed to never again ride a bus driven by Blake.

Unknowingly, however, she did just that exactly 55 years ago today. She was sitting on the front-most row allowed for African Americans when a white passenger boarded. The bus driver ordered that the black passengers on her row get up and make a new row for white passengers. When she looked up and realized that the driver was Blake, her subsequent knee-jerk decision to engage in non-violent civil-disobediance helped change our nation for the better.

Sadly, she would suffer for that decision. She lost her job as a seamstress in a local department store and was eventually forced to move to Detroit to find similar work. However, Parks would rebound. Not only did she receive many awards for her important role in the civil rights movement, she also went on to work for the first African American U.S. Representative, John Conyers, serving as his secretary from 1965 to 1988.

The story of Rosa Parks represents both the very worst and the very best of America—slavery and the subsequent racism which followed combatted non-violently by a group of brave and smart people who were armed with a dream that one day things would change if enough people demanded they do just that.

It’s critical that our children understand our nation’s history, both the good parts and the bad. It’s also important they understand that we live in a country where virtually anything is possible. By telling our kids about Rosa Parks, we’ll help them better comprehend all those those things.

Rosa Parks’ story will also give me a chance to tell my child that though we’ve come a long way in combatting ignorance and racism, we still have a long way to go.

Happy anniversary, Rosa. And thank you.

Photo: Wikipedia

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