Rosa Parks - Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
Rosa Parks was a courageous woman. In her refusal to relinquish her seat to a white man on a crowded bus (in 1955) she single-handedly kicked off a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus transit system, which lead to the 1956 Supreme Court ruling to ban segregation on public transportation.
What many of the his-story books fail to mention is that Parks was secretary of the local Montgomery branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The NAACP was looking for someone to defy the law that declared all black people must sit in the back of the bus and must also give up their seat if a white person were to board a crowded bus. Determined to challenge the law, Parks (contrary to popular belief) did not refuse to get out of her seat because she was tired after a long day of work. She refused to move because she was tired of watching the bigoted treatment of black folks on the bus. So she stayed sitting in her seat and stood up to a corrupt system.
Parks was arrested. Bail was posted. That night she decided, with the support and encouragement of her husband and mother, to call a midnight meeting of the Women's Political Council. Story has it that 35,000 handbills were mimeographed for distribution to all black schools the next morning. Black people were urged not to ride the bus but to instead take an alternate form of transportation. And they did. They walked, organized carpools, bicycled and even rode mules.
This was an important and effective tactic since seventy percent of the riders on the Montgomery bus transit system were black. The substantial decrease in passengers and the ensuing loss in revenue resulted in the cutting back of the number of buses that were in operation. Bus fare also increased.
Another interesting spin-off also occurred. Since people were walking more instead of riding the bus they started shopping closer to home. This created a problem for the white store owners with businesses downtown. Harassment and threats were hurled at anyone involved in the boycott. Undaunted, those who boycotted stood their ground, remaining steadfast but nonviolent under the direction of Dr. Martin Luther King.
King, who was the newly appointed pastor for The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, formed the Montgomery Improvement Association. He, along with the support of the church, coordinated the bus boycott. After a year of ongoing and tenacious battle, the Supreme Court banned segregation on public transportation.
Rosa Parks has been awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from universities around the world including the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 1996. President Clinton awarded Park a Congressional Gold medal in 1999. In 1998 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Rosa is still speaking out and standing strong against injustice today. She is one of 120 prominent businesspersons, religious leaders, civil society leaders, and entertainers that have signed the "Justice Not Vengeance" statement in response to the September 11, 2001 incident.
Rosa Parks is an inspiration, a heroine, a strong leader to follow. Her relentless dedication to change a system proved one of the most important events in herstory.
In the wake of 9.11, with the advent of the PATRIOT Act, we must all take a stand against injustice or we will lose the civil rights that Rosa Parks worked so hard to acquire. Not fear or apathy or indifference or excuses can interfere with our need to rise up and push the politicians out of their seats of power. Parks once said in an interview: "If I have to face something, I do so no matter what the consequences might be. I never had any desire to give up. I did not feel that giving up would be a way to become a free person."
Rosa Parks was fined $14 for breaking the bus law. She never paid it.