Rosa Parks set into motion an opportunity for African Americans to stand together in protest and have not only the injustice heard by whites, but also demanded equality on public transportation. Because Rosa Parks was a small woman and not a strong intimidating looking man, she was the perfect face for the civil rights fight in Alabama and across the country. Rosa was a person who was above reproach, and people could not find fault with her character.
Her courage in a state where the Klu Klux Klan and lynchings were still a part of Southern culture forced the nation to move forward in efforts to right the jaded "separate but equal" laws that plagued the South. 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.
Civil-rights activist, born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, Rosa was the daughter of a carpenter and a school teacher. When she was two, her parents separated and her mother moved them to live on her grandparents farm in Pine Level Alabama. Both her grandparents were former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality. In one experience, Rosa's grandfather stood in front of their house with a shotgun while Ku Klux Klan members marched down the street. The city of Pine Level, Alabama had a new school building and bus transportation for white students while African-American students walked to the one-room schoolhouse, often lacking desks and adequate school supplies. Rosa was home schooled until she was eleven, then sent to the privately run Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. In 1929, while a junior in the eleventh grade, she left school to attend to her sick grandmother. She never returned, but instead got a job at a shirt factory in Montgomery.
In 1932, Rosa married a barber named Raymond Parks who was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With Raymond's support, Rosa Parks finished her high school degree in 1933. She soon became actively involved in civil rights issues my joining the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, serving as the secretary to the president, E.D. Nixon until 1957.
Rosa Parks created an opportunity for blacks in Montgomery Alabama to overturn the city ordinance permitting racial segregation on city buses. On December 1, 1955 Parks boarded a bus after a long day of work and took a seat in the back of the bus that was marked for use by both white and blacks. A few stops later a group of white men boarded the bus and had trouble finding available seats together. The bus driver announced "Niggers move back". Parks was a member of the NAACP and tired of the abuses she had suffered daily on the city buses decided she needed to make a statement and refused to give up her seat. The bus driver stopped the bus, called the police and Rosa Parks was taken to jail. Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code, even though she technically had not taken up a white-only seat—she had been in a colored section. Her courage is forever marked as one of the great stepping stones in equality for African Americans.
Upon hearing of Rosa Parks' arrest, Mr. E.D. Nixon, a friend and longtime civil rights leader, posts her bail. Nixon believes that the Montgomery African-American community must respond. Although Rosa Parks is not the first African American to be treated unfairly, he is determined to try and make her the last. Knowing that the city bus system depends heavily on the African-American community, the black leaders agree to call a boycott of all city buses on Monday, December 5. A new and popular minister in Montgomery by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. is chosen to lead the boycott. By Friday evening the news of the upcoming boycott has spread throughout the city.
On Sunday, December 4, 1955, plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced at black churches in the area, and a front-page article in The Montgomery Advertiser helped spread the word. At a church rally that night, those attending agreed unanimously to continue the boycott until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected, until black drivers were hired, and until seating in the middle of the bus was handled on a first-come basis.
Four days later, Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. The trial lasted 30 minutes. Parks was found guilty and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs. Parks not only appealed her conviction, she formally challenged the legality of racial segregation.
In the end, the boycott lasted for 381 days. Dozens of public buses stood idle 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.
Through her role in sparking the boycott, Rosa Parks played an important part in internationalizing the awareness of the plight of African Americans and the civil rights struggle. King wrote in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom that Parks' arrest was the precipitating factor, rather than the cause, of the protest: "The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices." He stated, "Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer'.
Parks eventually received many honors ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. Her death in 2005 was a major story in the United States' leading newspapers. She was granted the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
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