Tuesday, December 1, 2009

She Would Not Be Moved

Magnet # 106: Farewell to Rosa Parks

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

This is Rosa Parks Day, the anniversary of the day in 1955 when a Montgomery seamstress refused to give up her bus seat and unintentionally began the Civil Rights Movement. It was the beginning of the end of one the more dubious concepts to influence the United States in the post-Civil War era - "separate but equal" segregation.

Everyone has heard about the ugly practice of bus segregation that went on in the mid 1900's in the South, but you don't realize just how bad it was until you take a closer look at it or hear about it from people who experienced it firsthand. In Montgomery, the first four rows on a bus were reserved for whites, but if there were enough whites on a bus, this section moved back and black riders were expected to move from their own seats to the rear, or even stand or leave the bus entirely. The bus drivers rarely showed any kindness when telling them to move, yelling and perhaps even uttering racial slurs. Sometimes, fellow riders would join in. It was a humiliating experience for those unlucky enough to undergo it, but it occurred on a regular basis. Also, if whites were seated in the front of the bus, black people were expected to pay their fare at the front, disembark, and enter at the rear. They could not even walk past whites. Sometimes, bus drivers would drive off while people were still traveling to the rear entrance, swindling them out of their money and forcing them to walk. This happened to Rosa Parks once, and she had to walk over five miles in the rain to get home. Clearly, this needed to come to an end.

When Rosa Parks boarded the bus that December evening, the first ten rows were reserved for whites. She sat in the first row available to black riders. Before long, however, enough whites had boarded that the driver moved the white rows back and ordered Parks and other passengers to move. In doing so, he was going against a city ordinance regarding racial segregation. Passengers were not required to leave their seats, but drivers forced them to anyway. Parks realized this was the man that had once abandoned her to walk home in the rain. And she refused to move. We all know what happened next - her arrest, which lead to the bus boycott, and the eventual Supreme Court decision to outlaw racial segregation on state buses. A dubious practice had finally come to an end, thanks in part to Parks' determination.

It's worth mentioning that Rosa Parks was not the first African American who refused to give up a bus seat.  Two women had already prompted a Supreme Court ruling against segregation during interstate bus travel.  And she was not even the first Montgomery woman to do so - nine months earlier, Claudette Colvin had done so.  Community leaders considered backing her up, but when she became pregnant out of wedlock soon after the incident, they were concerned of her being dismissed as a scandalous young woman.  There were even claims of her cursing at the police as they arrested her.  Another woman who refused to give up her seat attacked her arresting officers, even kneeing a sheriff in the groin.  But Parks remained calm and collected throughout her ordeal.  She was a well educated, upstanding woman who had witnessed a life free from segregation at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and ridden an integrated trolley when she worked at Maxwell Air Force Base.  She was respectably married, faithfully attended church, and served as secretary of the local NAACP chapter.  She was precisely the kind of person for the community to gather around.  Standing up for herself and becoming a symbol for the Civil Rights Movement wasn't always easy for Parks - she and her husband eventually had to leave Montgomery because it was difficult to work there.  Finally, they settled in Detroit, where she lived until her death in 2005.  Later in life, she was given many honors for her actions toward realizing racial equality.  Parks is proof to us all that even a quiet seamstress can stand up to injustice and help change life for the better, and hopefully, a reminder that we may also be able to change the world around us.

2 comments:

  1. First time I'd heard that Parks wasn't the first. Interesting tidbit there. Thanks.

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  2. I was surprised to find that out myself - I guess it's not something you hear often.

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