This paper looks into the life and times of a woman in history who was able to revolutionize one of the most controversial subject matters that graced this century. Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on April 2, 1913 in Tusgekee, Alabama. At age two she moved to Pine Level, Alabama to live with her maternal grandparents. She attended a private girls’ school and went on to Alabama State Teacher’s College, now Alabama State University. She was unable to complete her education when both her grandmother and mother fell ill. In 1932 Rosa Parks married Raymond Parks who was already active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both became active with the NAACP.
The Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP was looking for a case to challenge the legality of segregated bus seating. This law required Black citizens to pay their bus fare in the front of the bus then exit the bus and re-enter in the rear to be seated in the last few rows marked for Black citizens. White citizens would enter the bus in the front to pay their bus fare and proceed to take their seats in the ‘White Only’ section. If that section was filled, anyone in the ‘Black’ section must move a row back. If there were no rows left, Black citizens were asked to disembark with no refund of their fares.
We will take a look at the strengths, challenges and obstacles that ultimately lead to the perseverance of Rosa Parks as she helped mobilized a city, effect change and moved a nation to acceptance.
On December 1, 1955, after a tiring day at work as a seamstress, Ms. Parks took her seat in the back of the bus when she and three other Black passengers were told to give up their seats to White passengers. Rosa Parks refused. The driver had Ms. Parks arrested where she was released later that night on bond. Ms. Parks later spoke of that day that changed history. She said she was not physically tired, instead tired of always giving in.
I found the greatest strength that Ms. Parks possessed was the ability to be disobedient. This one act of civil disobedient breached the color lines that have long plagued the South. This strength represented years of struggle where those with more power dominated those with little or no power. Furthermore, her strength was accentuated by her affiliation with the NAACP and the support it provided during the time of her arrest and subsequent court proceedings. Even though the Supreme Court abolished segregated seating in 1954, a year later some Southern states did not recognize that decision
Parks gained strength and support in the years preceding the 1955 bus incident. In addition to being involved with NAACP, she was a respected activist as early as 1947 when she delivered a powerful speech at the state conference of the NAACP regarding the mistreatment of African American women in the South. Following her speech, she was elected secretary of the State Conference (Brittain, 2014).
Looking back at history and the single act by one woman, it is difficult to ignore some of the gender stereotype of women of color. Etaugh and Bridges (2006) noted that Black women are less likely than White women to adhere to gender stereotypes. Black women hold more egalitarian views about women and politics than White women. Also, Black women compared to White women perceived less of a conflict (p.65). Given these, it was difficult for many to accept that Rosa Parks could mobilize a city and forced them to change their bus seating policies. The city of Montgomery underestimated the power of this one woman. Despite her quiet demeanor, she was readying herself for these challenges in the years preceding the incident.
The many challenges faced by Ms. Parks included being born a Black woman in the early 1900s in the United States. Next, being born into a broken family of little means played heavily on the struggles she faced. In addition, a lack of proper education and not being able to champion benefits available to others of a different race. A lack of respect, the constant degrading and demeanor of Blacks in the South was a challenge that gave her strength and power to change a nation. Finally, being a laborer working under constant pressures from White bosses was also stressful. Nevertheless, Ms. Parks was inspired by the many teachings of nonviolent protests she had read and heard about. She wanted to reach out to the little children and show them they were equal to other little children. Her passion and dedication gave her the courage she needed to bring about change.
Rosa Parks had to overcome personal and financial hardship as a result of her defiance to segregated bus seating. Her arrest caused her to lose her job and face threats to her life, the life of her family, and the lives of those who supported her, including her few White friends. Nevertheless, the case made it to the US Supreme Court in 1956 where it was declared that segregation is illegal. On December 20, 1956 the Montgomery buses were officially desegregated.
Due to constant harassment from the White population following the Supreme Court’s ruling and lack of employment, Rosa Parks and her husband relocated to Detroit, Michigan in 1957. She continued to work as a seamstress until 1965 when she was hired to serve as an administrative assistant to John Conyers, a US Representative. She held this position until her retirement in 1988.
Rosa Parks did not give up her plight to help others find equality. Ten years after the death of her husband, she founded The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development which sponsors programs for teenagers of all ethnic backgrounds. This program centered on group tours of the US to learn about the history of the civil rights movement. In 1992, Rosa Parks published her autobiography called Rosa Parks: My story for young people to learn about her life story. Ms. Parks received many awards and tributes in her lifetime for her work, including the NAACP’s highest honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom and The Congressional Gold Medal.
Finally, upon her death in 2005, the United States Senate pass a resolution to honor Rosa Parks by allowing her remains to “lie in state” in the US Capitol Rotunda. She became the 31st person so honored, and the first woman and the second Black person to ever “lie in state” in the Rotunda.
Reading these articles coupled with our assigned class text, I learned a few things I did not know about Ms. Parks. First, I did not know she came from a broken home and a financially challenging family. I did not know she was previously affiliated with the NAACP for many years preceding her arrest. I learned this was a strategic plan by many to bring an end to the segregation bus laws in the State of Alabama, according to some of the journal articles.
Next I learned of the many emotional thoughts and feelings Ms. Parks experienced during this time of struggle. She possesses an enormous amount of strength and perseverance in order to overcome the threats, discrimination, and financial struggles. Most of all she did not give up on what she believed in and the cause she spent her life standing strong for and against. Her affiliation with the NAACP has propelled this event into world history and gave her the support she needed to affect change. Overall, I feel this was a very successful and strategic plan to change this platform. However, change came, it was needed.
The strengths, obstacles, and challenges faced by Ms. Parks ultimately resulted in a change of how we view and respect the rights of other citizens in the US, regardless of their ethnicity, race or color. It took one person to stand alone and many others to follow in her footsteps to bring about change to make a nation more united and strong.
These are the stories that continue to drive me as a person and the things I choose to represent. It gives me hope and vision to want to make a better future for our children and the world that my future generation will be part of; a world of equality and freedom.
References (Journal review and peer review articles)
Richardson, R. (2013). Framing Rosa Parks in Reel Time, 50 (3), 55-65. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.net.ucf.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c22d59f0-fb47-4aaf-937b-8bddb73d9fb9%40sessionmgr4003&vid=4&hid=4202
Brittain, V. (2014). The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Race & Class, 55 (3), 93-109. Retrieved from http://rac.sagepub.com.ezproxy.net.ucf.edu/content/55/3/93
Greenshaw, W. (2007). One Of The Many Who Would Fight for Freedom. Alabama Heritage, 8-15. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.net.ucf.edu/ps/retrieve.do?retrieveFormat=PDF_FROM_CALLISTO&accesslevel=FULLTEXT_WITH_GRAPHICS&inPS=true&prodId=LitRC&userGroupName=orla57816&tabID=&workId=PI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-4.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-5.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-6.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-7.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-8.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-9.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-10.JPG%7CPI-3AQB-2007-SUM00-IDSI-11.JPG&docId=GALE%7CA206988774&callistoContentSet=PER&isAcrobatAvailable=false
Anti-Defamation League (2006). A Brief Biography of Rosa Parks. Retrieved from http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/education-outreach/Rosa-Parks-Brief-Biography.pdf
Letort, D. (2012). The Rosa Parks Story: The Making of a Civil Rights Icon, Project Muse, 3 (2), 31-50. Retrieved from http://resolver.flvc.org/ucf?genre=article&atitle=The+Rosa+Parks+Story%3a+The+Making+of+a+Civil+Rights+Icon&title=Black+Camera&issn=19474237&isbn=&volume=3&issue=2&date=20120101&aulast=Letort%2c+Delphine&spage=31&pages=31-50&rft.sid=EBSCO:Project+MUSE:edspmu.S1947423712200058
Dreier, P. (2006). Rosa Parks: Angry, Not Tired. Dissent Notebook, 88-92. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.net.ucf.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c22d59f0-fb47-4aaf-937b-8bddb73d9fb9%40sessionmgr4003&vid=4&hid=4202
Banks, A.M. (2013). Statue of Rosa Parks Unveiled in Capitol. Christian Century, 16-17.
Civil Rights Biography (2011). Rosa Parks, K12Reader. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.net.ucf.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c22d59f0-fb47-4aaf-937b-8bddb73d9fb9%40sessionmgr4003&vid=4&hid=4202
Etaugh, C.A., & Bridges, J.S. (2006). Women’s Lives: A Psychological Exploration. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.