The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

29 May

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” – Rosa Parks.

My apologies for missing the last issue, I’m not going to bore you with the details but in short I had a job interview (which I got!) followed by an operation (nothing life threatening) so you can just imagine the nightmare residing in my mind at that time. Even if I did contribute, it would have been the worst article I’d ever written in my life and that is not worthy for this type of feature!

Anyway, all is fine in my little life and I’m back on the track in discovering the world’s most influential women! This issue has the arrival of the 3rd in the top 10 and I won’t lie to you, her discovery was a mission in itself…

I was really struggling with finding an ideal candidate for this slot which is odd because how hard can it be to find inspirational women?! I mean they are everywhere, just type it into Google (which was guiltily a last resort of mine) and there are endless articles of “100 most inspirational women…” or “25 women who changed the world…” It goes on forever…but the truth is, as the writer of this feature I want to find women who call out to me and reach the fiery embers of my core. The aim is to write about different women from all walks of life and I’ve covered the political world and the musically famous. Then something happened as I was about to rip every bright red hair from my empty head.

Due to my mother’s wishes, my post op recovery was to be spent at home and I haven’t lived here for 4 years now, so to sooth my writer’s block I started rummaging around my cupboards and about 20 minutes later I found my school books, in particular my American history book which was one of my favourite subjects. I started reading and came across the story of an amazing lady who had slipped my mind until now…Rosa Parks.

Some of you may know her story, some of you may have heard of her but others and sadly maybe most would have never heard her name before. So let me tell you about the life of the wonderful Rosa Parks.

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Rosa Parks was born on February 4th in 1913 in Alabama where she resided for most of her early life. Those of you who studied American history, or share an interest in the evolution of racial integration, will be aware that to be black living in that era would have meant a life filled with segregation and oppression. Policies were enforced in regards to public transport having separate seating areas for black and white people, and in education there were only school buses for white children; black children had to walk to school no matter how far. Rosa Parks recalls her experience as a school child oppressed because of her race:

“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.” – Taken from The Birth Of The Montgomery Bus Boycott by Roberta Hughes Wright. 1991.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

That’s what life was like back then and Rosa Parks grew up right in the middle of it all. She got on with life, kept herself to herself and married Raymond Parks in 1932 who was an active member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). After time she joined the NAACP herself and became actively involved in Equal Justice cases in particular the case of Recy Taylor, which although unsuccessful, was a strong campaign and massive step forward for the black community.

What is it about her that differs from other women in this line of work I hear you ask? Well it all started December 1st 1955 when Rosa Parks was commuting her usual bus ride home from work as a seamstress…

As stated, public transport was segregated into white/black sections and although there was no law claiming this, it was common practice that blacks had to give up their seats to whites. Rosa Parks had spent her life giving up her seat to the white supremacy but on this particular day she must have been at the edge. As the bus was full, the driver told Parks to surrender her seat to a white passenger, and upon reflection of that day she 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.”

He asked for her seat and she simply refused. He threatened to call the police in which she replied:

“You may do that.”

She was arrested and spent the night and following day in jail before she was bailed out by NCAAP friends.

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Just take a second to process this. She was arrested for riding the bus like any other American. She sat in the ridiculously labelled “coloured section.” She wasn’t breaking any of the so-called rules, but she was still punished. It’s so absurd it’s almost laughable.

Following on from this incident, the black community in the town of Montgomery, Alabama underwent a Bus Boycott where they refused to use public transport until there was a level equality between blacks and whites on public transport. In an interview with Lynn Neary in 1992, Parks said:

“I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.”

There had been many people who tried to do what she did before her but it was her calm actions and involvement within civil rights that sparked off the mass involvement. It was time for a change and she was going to lead it. These determined people continued the boycott for 381 days which had catastrophic effects on public transport profits. The city then lifted the segregation law on public transport, which was an immense achievement and just proved that standing up for yourself will make changes eventually.

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Over the years after this milestone of change, Parks remained closely involved with civil rights movements and it was only when she lost both her husband and brother to cancer in the space of 3 months in 1977 that she stopped her work to understandably focus on her personal life. They say bad things come in three’s and this case is no different when she lost her mother to cancer again in 1979.

Any respectably normal human would probably collapse into a black abyss of depression and isolation. I know if it was me, I would have no energy to carry on but this strong willed woman just rededicated the rest of her life to civil rights. Despite her fame and fortune that came along with that, she lived off her basic salary and donated the rest to civil rights causes.

She spent the rest of her life doing what she did best, helping others, and eventually died in Detroit at the ripe old age of 92 on October 24th 2005.

Rosa Parks was an incredible woman and she became a catalyst for change. She devoted her entire life towards helping others, which is a common characteristic of many people. However what makes Rosa Parks special is that even when life shot her in the foot she just kept on going. She continued to give when she lost everything. That is strength. That is inspiration.

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I feel very honoured to have written this piece about this woman and she was not only an asset to the black community she was an asset to women and more importantly an asset to humanity which is something I feel is more important than her race and gender.

Parks is living proof that standing up for your beliefs and for your rights will provide results if you possess the passion and dedication as she did.

If you want to learn more about her, watch this video!

 

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” – Rosa Parks.

About the Writer: Melody has just finished a degree in Journalism, Film and Media with a 2:1. She aspires to work with vulnerable women and children subject to domestic, and or other forms of abuse. She is an animal lover and has a small obsession with Fearne Cotton. She is a constant joker and can be found on Twitter.

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