Thank you, Rosa Parks


Rosa Parks (1913-2005)  passed away on October 24 at age 92.  She was laid to rest today in Detroit and remembered fondly as someone who stood up to injustice and provided the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Her story is incredible–a unassuming African American lady who committed a simple act that provided a rallying point for a movement that changed the course of history.  On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a Caucasian* and was arrested.  Her act of civil disobedience prompted a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system by the African American community, ultimately leading to a fundamental shift in American society.  From Martin Luther’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the overturning of segregationist Jim Crow laws, Rosa Parks’ simple act of disobedience led to nothing short of a political earthquake in the United States.  While racism and inequality still exist in the United States, thanks to a single act by Rosa Parks, America has come a long way since the 1960’s.  Thank you, Rosa Parks.
 
Many Americans know that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus, but few know the details of what happened on that Montgomery, Alabama bus on December 1, 1955.  Here is an excerpt from Rosa Parks’ interview with schoolchildren in February 1997 posted on Scholastic’s web site, where she recounts the events of that fateful day in December 1955:

That particular day that I decided was not the first time I had trouble with that particular driver. He evicted me before, because I would not go around to the back door after I was already onto the bus. The evening that I boarded the bus, and noticed that he was the same driver, I decided to get on anyway. I did not sit at the very front of the bus; I took a seat with a man who was next to the window — the first seat that was allowed for “colored” people to sit in. We were not disturbed until we reached the third stop after I boarded the bus. At this point a few white people boarded the bus, and one white man was left standing. When the driver noticed him standing, he spoke to us (the man and two women across the aisle) and told us to let the man have the seat. The other three all stood up. But the driver saw me still sitting there. He said would I stand up, and I said, “No, I will not.” Then he said, “I’ll have you arrested.” And I told him he could do that. So he didn’t move the bus any further. Several black people left the bus.

Two policemen got on the bus in a couple of minutes. The driver told the police that I would not stand up. The policeman walked down and asked me why I didn’t stand up, and I said I didn’t think I should stand up. “Why do you push us around?” I asked him. And he said, “I don’t know. But the law is the law and you are under arrest.” As soon as he said that I stood up, the three of us left the bus together.

One of them picked up my purse, the other picked up my shopping bag. And we left the bus together. It was the first time I’d had that particular thing happen. I was determined that I let it be known that I did not want to be treated in this manner. The policemen had their squad car waiting, they gave me my purse and bag, and they opened the back door of the police car for me to enter.

Few people know the antagonists in this drama.  The Caucasian bus driver who initially accosted Rosa Parks was James Blake.  The New York Times reports that the driver had evicted Rosa Parks from a bus in 1943, 13 years before the 1955 incident, for refusing to enter the bus through the back door.  I don’t think the driver was aware of that fact when Rosa Parks entered the bus in 1955, although Rosa Parks recognized him and remembered what he had done to her.  Some writers have written that an unnamed Caucasian rider demanded that Rosa Parks give up her seat, but it appears from Rosa’s own description of the incident that the rider without a seat remained silent while James Blake confronted Rosa Parks.  It is not without irony that someone who apparently steadfastly embraced segregationism also played a role in launching the Civil Rights Movement.  I wonder if James Blake would have done what he had done to Rosa Parks had he known what his arrest threat against Rosa Parks would set in motion.  If he were still alive today, I believe that even he would be a changed man and would realize the folly of segregationism.  We’ll probably never know, because he likely died in obscurity.  However, I suspect that even he would have eventually appreciated what Rosa Parks did for America.

 

Blog Note*:  Although many writers refer to Caucasians as “whites” or “white man” or “white people” when telling the story of Rosa Parks, I prefer to be consistent and contemporary when it comes to racial terms.  The Federal Government now uses the terms “African American” and “Caucasian” as racial definitions, as do I.

 

For my 2012 post commemorating Martin Luther King Day, click here.

 

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5 thoughts on “Thank you, Rosa Parks

  1. Angeline says:

    I read in our papers the article on Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a \’white man\’ on the bus on Dec. l ,1955. But your posting on her was more in details. Thank you, Mike.Angeline

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