Nov 30, 2010

Rosa Parks Day ~ Dec. 1st

According to About.com, December 1st is Rosa Parks Day. I was unable to find any other sources confirming this as fact and I did find that some states have established Rosa Parks Days in February which is the month of her birth. Nonetheless, it was on December 1, 1955 that Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress with a "quiet and dignified demeanor", refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, an action which got her arrested and sparked a bus transportation boycott that served as a catalyst in ending segregation in America.

Rosa's Childhood
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on Feb. 4, 1913 to James McCauley (a carpenter) and Leona Edwards (a teacher). As a child, Rosa was small for her age and suffered with health problems. When her parents divorced, Rosa and her brother, Sylvester, moved with their mother to live with grandparents on a farm in Pine Level, Alabama. Rosa's grandparents were both former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality.

During the first half of the 20th century, black and white people in the south were segregated in nearly every aspect of life, including public transportation. When Rosa was a child, the white children in her town rode to school on buses while the black children had to walk to school every day. Rosa remembered, "I'd see the bus pass everyday... 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."

As a young lady, Rosa was forced to drop out of school to care for her grandmother, and later for her mother, after they became ill. At age 19, Rosa met and married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. Raymond was a member of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Raymond urged Rosa to finish her High School studies and in 1933 Rosa received her high school diploma at a time when less than 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma.  With her husband, Rosa became active in the civil rights movement and in December of 1943, joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and was subsequently asked to serve as secretary for that chapter.

Segregation Practices of the Day
According to Wikipedia, "In 1900, Montgomery had passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating passengers by race. Conductors were given the power to assign seats to accomplish that purpose; however, no passengers would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available. Over time and by custom, however, Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move whenever there were no white only seats left."

As was the practice at the time, if there were any white passengers already on the bus, boarding black passengers were required to enter the front of the bus just long enough to pay their fare then walk around to the back of the bus to enter through the back entrance. On a rainy day in 1943, bus driver, James F. Blake, demanded that Rosa leave the bus and reenter through the back door. On her way out, Rosa accidentally dropped her purse. Parks sat down for a moment in a seat for white passengers to pick up her purse. The bus driver was enraged by this and barely gave Rosa enough time to step off the bus before speeding away.

A Hero Takes a Stand by Staying Seated
On December 1, 1955, at around 6:00 p.m., Rosa Parks was headed home after a long day on the job as a seamstress in a department store. Rosa boarded the bus and sat down in a seat toward the middle of the bus behind the black riders designation sign. As they traveled along the route, the white only seats began to fill and the bus driver noticed three white men standing in the aisle. The bus driver was James F. Blake, the same man who had left Rosa to walk home in the rain twelve years earlier. Rosa later said she did not realize at the time that it was the same driver. Blake walked back to the middle of the bus and moved the "colored" section sign to the row behind Parks demanding that the four black passengers stand up so the white passengers could sit down.

Now, Rosa was tired. Sure, she was tired from a long day of work but that was not the kind of tired that influenced her on that day, she was just plain "tired of giving in", tired of the injustices that she, her loved ones, her friends, and all African American people had been forced to endure. Years later, when recalling the events of the day, Rosa said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." At that moment, as the three other black passengers stood and moved into the aisle, Rosa remained seated and, in fact, scooted in to the window seat. Blake then said, "Why don't you stand up?" Rosa responded, "I don't think I should have to stand up." Blake said, "Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested." Rosa said, "You may do that."

Rosa had not planned to take a stand that day. She had not planned to get arrested. She just did what she felt she had to do in that moment.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Mrs. Parks' trial was set for the following Monday, Dec. 5, 1955.  On the evening of Parks arrest, E.D. Nixon, head of the local chapter of the NAACP began plans to organize a boycott of Montgomery's city buses. Ads were placed in local papers and handbills were distributed asking all African Americans in the area to abstain from riding the buses in Montgomery on December 5th as a protest to Rosa's arrest.  The day of Rosa's trial arrived. It was a rainy day, still the black community persevered in their boycott. Some carpooled, some rode in black operated taxis that charged the same fare as the buses, other commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. Rosa's trial lasted 30 minutes. She was found guilty of disorderly conduct and fined $10.00 plus $4.00 in court costs.

Wikipedia tells us that, "On Monday, December 5, 1955, after the success of the one-day boycott, a group of 16 to 18 people gathered at the Mount Zion AME Zion church to discuss boycott strategies. The group agreed that a new organization was needed to lead the boycott effort if it were to continue. Reverend Ralph David Abernathy suggested the name "Montgomery Improvement Association" (MIA). The name was adopted, and the MIA was formed. It's members elected as their president a relative new-comer to Montgomery, a young and mostly unknown minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

The boycott continued on for 381 days severely crippling the transit company's finances. Finally, on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld a federal court ruling stating that Alabama's segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional.

The boycott resulted in the U.S. civil rights movement receiving one of it's first victories and gave Martin Luther King Jr. the national attention that made him one of the prime leaders of the cause.

Sources: Wikipedia 1 Wikipedia 2 biography.com

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