‘I don’t think I should have to stand up.'(1) These were the words of a legendary woman who fought for justice for herself, her people, and her country. Rosa Parks was a woman who did not back down. Her famous stand and lifelong work for equality made a large impact in the fight for Civil Rights.
Main Topic 1
During the 20th Century, the color of a person’s skin determined how the world treated them. People with dark skin were treated worse than people with light skin. Many white people were discriminatory against blacks and thought them inferior. Prejudice and discrimination were nothing new in America. Early in America’s history, Africans were kidnapped and brought to America as slaves . Slavery was abolished in 1865 but prejudice remained.
In 1950, numerous cities in the south were segregated. Blacks and whites had everything separate. There were separate restaurants, hotels, bathrooms, movie theatres, parking lots, schools, churches, water fountains… Anything that someone could need, or use was segregated. Blacks did not have the same political rights as whites did. They were not allowed to vote. This gave them no way to elect people who would stand up for them and protest their unjust situation.
Main Topic 2
Segregation on buses was one of these injustices. Buses in Montgomery, Alabama had rules to enforce segregation. Blacks were required to sit in the back, and whites could sit up front. When a bus became full, the driver could force a row of blacks to give up their seats for whites. The rules made it illegal for people of different races to sit in the same row. If one white person came into a full bus, the driver could make four black people give up their seats. Defying these rules was illegal. If a passenger refused to give up their seat they could be arrested. Blacks were required to sit in the back, but everyone paid up front. Black passengers would have to pay in the front, exit the bus, and reenter in the back. Sometimes a driver would drive off before the passenger had a chance to re-board.
People for a long time had been looking for ways to protest and end segregation. The NAACP — National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People – was one organization that had been doing just that.
Multiple cases of people being mistreated for refusing to give up their seats had occurred. The NAACP wanted to find a good candidate among them for seeing through a court challenge. The court case was meant to confront and hopefully abolish the laws of bus segregation, declaring them illegal under the American constitution. The NAACP needed a strong court case that could win a lawsuit in federal court. “But first they needed the strongest possible case—the arrest of a black rider who was above reproach, a person of unassailable character and reputation who could withstand the closest scrutiny. (2)” The NAACP decided on the court case of Rosa McCauley Parks.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in the winter of 1914, in Tuskegee, Alabama. After her parents separated, she moved to Pine Level with her mother. She went to rural schools until she turned eleven. She remembered walking to school while the white kids were allowed to take a bus.
“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. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.” (1)
After completing elementary school, McCauley went to the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. She then tried to get a high school diploma at the Alabama State Teacher’s College but dropped out of school to help her grandmother and mother.
In 1932, she married Raymond Parks and became Rosa Parks. At her husband’s urging she finished her high school diploma. Rosa had a sewing job where she altered clothing, but she also took additional sewing projects and jobs on the side. Raymond was an activist and he urged Rosa to work for the NAACP. She took his advice and in 1943 — became a secretary for Edward D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter and later the state organization chapter of the NAACP. Rosa worked there for 12 years, investigating cases of unjustness.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa boarded a bus. She recalled that twelve years previously, the bus driver – James F. Blake – had driven off before she’d been able to board. Rosa was sitting where the law said she could— in the space designated for blacks. The bus began to fill up. Soon there were no more empty seats. Some white passengers boarded the bus. The bus driver moved the divider behind the first ten seats and ordered a row of four black people to give up their seats. Rosa was one of those four. She let the man sitting next to her get up. Then she moved to the window seat and stayed put. When later remembering the experience, Rosa said:
‘When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.”(1)
Blake called the police and Rosa was taken to jail. “As the officer took her away, she recalled that she asked, ‘Why do you push us around?’ She remembered him saying, ‘I don’t know, but the law’s the law, and you’re under arrest’ (1).” She was bailed out of jail later that day by E. D. Nixon.
Main Topic 3
Rosa Parks’ trial led to the Montgomery bus boycott—a non-violent protest against segregated buses. Her trial was on Monday. Teachers from Alabama State College secretly worked the Friday night before her trail to print thousands of handbills. These handbills urged all blacks to stay off the buses on Monday as a protest against Rosa’s trial.
“We are…” the handbills read, “asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial … You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday” (1,2).
Rosa’s trial lasted only 30 minutes and amounted to a fine of fourteen dollars. E. D. Nixon asked Rosa about taking her case to a higher court. She agreed, although the business would be risky. The NAACP hoped her case would see through a court challenge. In the end, her case became bogged down in the state courts, but the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle was eventually successful (1).
The Monday boycott itself though was successful. All day Monday the buses ran empty with the exception of a handful of white passengers. The Boycott continued indefinitely after a unanimous decision by the black church community.
The Boycott worked because more than 75% of bus riders were black. When those passengers refused to ride, the buses ran nearly empty. The bus companies lost huge quantities of money and couldn’t operate like they were supposed to. Carpools were organized by the church community as an alternative to taking the bus. People who owned cars volunteered them to the boycott. Detailed plans were established for pick up and drop off places. Mass meetings were held on Mondays and Thursdays to “Keep up morale.” Martin Luther King Junior was appointed as head of the boycott’s president.
The Boycotters originally were not fighting for entire equality, rather a compromise. Their initial requests were:
“1. Courteous treatment on the buses, 2. The hiring of black drivers in black neighborhoods, and 3. A first come, first serve seating by race.” (2)
Blacks and whites would still be in the back and front respectively, however, those seated would not stand up unless out of courtesy and no one had to stand by an unoccupied seat. These demands, although moderate, were rejected by the white officials, who said they didn’t want integrated buses. Really though, the system would not lead to integration, only a more reasonable arrangement. But since the officials would not comply with the boycotter’s moderate demands, the boycotters had to go all the way. Segregation had to be eliminated before things could become just.
While the boycott was a step in the right direction—the direction of fairness—there were many who opposed the boycott. The White Citizens Council tried to prevent insurance from being given to the “rolling churches” – station wagons owned by the church that had been donated to the boycott to be used for carpooling. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to get insurance from an agency in English firm so that the cars could operate legally. (2)
On February 21 a ‘special grand jury’ indicted 115 blacks after hearing more than 200 witnesses testify about who oversaw the boycott. This indictment included Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, ministers and the carpool drivers. This meant that any of them could be arrested…
The Montgomery State court was asked by the city officials to make an injunction that banned carpooling for the reason that it was an ‘unlicensed’ form of transportation. A hearing on the injunction was to be held on November 13 to determine whether carpooling would be outlawed or not. During the hearing, word was received from the Supreme Court in Washington DC declaring segregation on buses ‘unconstitutional’ (2). The bill to outlaw carpooling was passed anyway, but it didn’t matter anymore. Seating on buses was no longer going to be segregated. The Boycott ended on December 20, 1956.
Main Topic 4
After the Boycott, bus segregation was banned. All passengers could sit wherever they chose. No one had to give up their seat for anyone else and people of different nationalities/races were not forbidden from sitting on the same row.
Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became Symbols of the Civil Rights Movement. Following the boycott… marches,
Rosa Parks continued to work for bettering the lives of others. After the boycott, Rosa received death threats. She and her husband moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1957. Rosa continued working for the NAACP from Michigan. She worked for Congressman John Conyers and helped house homeless people (5). Ten years after her husband’s death she founded the Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute for Self-Development. Its purpose was to ‘educate and motivate youth and adults, particularly African American persons, for self and community betterment'(6). In 1999, Rosa received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor
Rosa Parks’ famous stand made a huge impact in the fight for equality. So did her lifelong work. Rosa Parks ventured to take a risk that ended up significantly impacting history.