I was a boy of 6 in 1948 when I first noticed the the “colored” section at the back of the bus, the separate restrooms and water fountains, and the bleachers with only black faces at the ballpark. Rosa Parks, the black seamstress whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked a revolution in American race relations 50 years ago, died on Monday.
I was a boy of 6 in 1948 when I first noticed the “colored” section at the back of the bus, the separate restrooms and water fountains, and the bleachers with only black faces at the ballpark. It was in Clearwater, Florida. I did nothing about it. I accepted my world for what it was and as it treated the “colored.”
Rosa Parks took another path and it has made a difference. A lead sentence from a story in India: Rosa Parks, the black seamstress whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked a revolution in American race relations 50 years ago, died on Monday. The full article is posted below.
The Associated Press quotes from tributes to Rosa. But, I suspect she would accept a simple Thank You, Rosa Parks from all of us.
Detroit, October 25: Rosa Parks, the black seamstress whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked a revolution in American race relations 50 years ago, died on Monday.
Parks, 92, died in her sleep at her home in Detroit, said Parks’ lawyer, Shirley Kaigler. She had been suffering from dementia and rarely appeared in public in recent years.
Parks, known as the mother of the modern civil rights movement, was a 42-year-old seamstress for the Montgomery Fair department store when she caught a bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, on Dec. 1, 1955.
She paid the 10-cent fare in front, then reboarded the bus in back as black riders were required to do, taking a seat in the first row of the section reserved for “coloureds.”
Three stops after she got on, a white man boarded and had to stand. To make room for him to sit alone, as the rules required, driver James Blake told Parks and three other black riders, “You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”
The other riders complied. Parks did not.
“No. I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen,” she told Blake. Blake called police, who asked Parks why she didn’t move: “I didn’t think I should have to. I paid my fare like everybody else.”
Parks was not the first black Montgomery bus rider to be arrested for failing to give up a seat, but she was the first to challenge the law. For years before her arrest, Parks and her husband had been active with local civil rights groups, who were looking for a test case to fight the city’s segregation laws.
BOYCOTT OF THE BUS SYSTEM
Four days later, she was convicted of breaking the law and fined $10, along with $4 in court costs. That same day, black residents began a boycott of the bus system, led by a then-unknown Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The boycott lasted 381 days, and the legal challenges led to a US Supreme Court decision that forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and put an end to “Jim Crow” laws separating blacks and whites at public facilities throughout the South.
Born Rosa Louise McCauley on Feb. 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, Parks was raised by her mother, Louisa, a schoolteacher. Her father left the family when she was young.
Her impoverished family moved to her grandfather’s farm, which had been part of a plantation. By age 6, Rosa was splitting her days between school and picking cotton on the farm.
She and other children who walked to school were sometimes taunted by white students who threw trash at them out the window of their bus.
When Parks later attended school in Montgomery, she said she grew weary of being told where she could not drink, could not sit, or could not go to the bathroom.
She married Raymond Parks, a barber, when she was 20, and the two became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. She was elected secretary of its Montgomery branch in 1943.
Parks’ refusal to give up her seat came about a year after the US Supreme Court declared that separate schools for blacks and whites were unequal in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case.
‘BEHAVIOR ABOVE REPROACH’
She said years later that her refusal, which set a precedent for dozens of other protests against segregation throughout the South, was undertaken with respect for authority.
“I actually did not show disrespect because I did not have any argument, or disorderly conduct, and I did not resist arrest,” she said.
For the rest of her life, Parks renounced violence, and urged young people to protest discrimination within the boundary of the law.
“It is better for them to have behaviour that is above reproach and face whatever it is in a way that they can be respected for their actions,” she said in an interview several years ago.
Parks and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, after she lost her job and received numerous death threats in Alabama. From 1965 to 1988, she worked as an aide to US Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
She became something of a patron saint for the city, which called her “Mrs. Parks,” with schools and a street named after her. Her husband, Raymond, died in 1977. The couple had no children and Parks’ closest living relatives are her brother’s 13 sons and daughters.
The city was shocked in 1994 when a black man kicked down the back door of her home, struck Parks in the face several times and fled with $53. The man later told police he stole the money to buy crack cocaine, and did not recognize who his victim was until he was inside the house.
“Many gains have been made, but as you can see at this time, we still have a long way to go,” Parks said at the time. “So many of our young people are going astray.”
After retirement, she devoted time to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which promotes leadership and civil rights awareness among Detroit youth.
Parks received the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1996 and Congressional Gold Medal of Honour in 1999. Recommending the medal for Parks that year, the US Senate described her as “a living icon for freedom in America.”
Former President Bill Clinton recognized her during a State of the Union speech by observing that for most Americans alive today, the struggle against segregation began in the South “when a woman called Rosa Parks sat down on a bus in Alabama and wouldn’t get up.”
In 2002, the Montgomery bus believed to be the one she was arrested on was sold to The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, for $492,000. Blake, the driver, died in March 2002.
Comments following the death of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks:
”Rosa Parks was a woman of great courage, grace and dignity. Her refusal to be treated as a second class citizen on a Montgomery bus in 1955 struck a blow to racial segregation and sparked a movement that broke the back of Jim Crow. … She was an inspiration to me and to all who work for the day when we will be one America. May God bless her soul and may she rest in peace.” Former President Bill Clinton.
”I truly believe that there’s a little bit of Rosa Parks in all Americans who have the courage to say enough is enough and stand up for what they believe in. She did such a small thing, but it was so courageous for her as a humble person to do. Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat-New York.
”The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American hero. A half century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but for generations upon generations of Americans. Her quiet fight for equality sounded the bells of freedom for millions.” Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democrat-Massachusetts.
”I think Rosa Parks was truly a historic figure who singularly on December 1, 1955, tore down the walls of American segregation and apartheid.” Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist.
”She must be looked upon as not just the mother of the modern civil rights movement; she must be looked upon as one of the mothers of the New America, of the New South.” Rep. John Lewis, Democrat-Georgia.
”Rosa Parks has shown the awesome power of right over might in history’s long journey for peace and freedom.” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist.
She loved people with a passion, and when she took that seat on that bus that day, she took a seat for all of us.” Clara Luper, a retired teacher who led a group of teenagers in a sit-in at a downtown Oklahoma City drug store counter in 1958.
”I remember her as an almost saint-like person. And I use that term with care. She was very humble, she was soft-spoken, but inside she had a determination that was quite fierce.” Rep. John Conyers, Democrat-Michigan.
”In her own simple way, Rosa Parks changed the history of our nation. She forced us to recognize the dignity of every person. She was a prophet â€” a common instrument of God inviting us and challenging us to a new vision of solidarity, equality and justice. We were blessed to have her as citizen of Detroit.” Cardinal Adam Maida, Archbishop of Detroit.
”In one single day, Rosa Parks made the world face the cause of equality, civil rights and justice. No words can adequately describe the courage of her actions, the nobility of her character or the impact she had on an entire nation.” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
”I fondly remember presenting her with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in June of 1999 in the United States Capital Rotunda. At the age of 86, she stood to accept the medal and sometimes steadied herself on my arm. Rosa Parks said that her legacy of quiet strength was passing to the youth of this nation.” U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.