Monday, February 4, 2013

Black History Month No.4: 12 Cool Things to Know About Rosa Parks

"Whatever my individual desires were
to be free, I was not alone.  There were 
many others who felt the same way."

"I would like to be remembered as 
a person who wanted to be free...
so other people would be also free."

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks  
Feb. 4, 1913 ~ Oct 24, 2005

1. For one thing, as you can see here, Mrs. Parks was born 100 years ago today, back when big-bellied Wm. Howard Taft was the President; in the year that Harriet Tubman died, in Tuskegee, Alabama, home of educators Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver; legions of students - and, during WWII, valiant African American airmen at what is now Tuskegee University.

2. Rosa was born into an unfair world.  She grew up on a farm, in the frightening, infuriating days of JIM CROW.  In the wide-awake nights when Ku Kluxers rode the landscape, intimidating black folks or anyone the Klan didn't much care for.  In the fierce time of lynching.  51 African Americans are known to have been lynched in 1913, in Rosa's birth year. Beaten, strung up by their neighbors, because of the color of their skin. As my granny once said, "The only good thing about the good old days is that they're gone." 

3. Rosa McCauley went to a one-room school house set aside for African American students. She furthered her studies at the Industrial School for Girls and at the Alabama State Teacher's College for Negroes, in Alabama's capital city, Montgomery.  

4. But Rosa had to leave school to look after her grandma and her mother, when they got sick. She got a job in a shirt factory.  And 19-year-old Rosa McCauley fell in love with a hungry-minded barber, named Raymond Parks.  Rosa and Raymond were married a week before Christmas, in the hard Great Depression year, 1932.   

5. With Raymond's encouragement, Rosa earned her H.S. diploma, in 1933.  And Mr. and Mrs. Parks of Montgomery (when they weren't cutting hair or sewing shirts and keeping house) involved themselves in African American campaign for their civil rights as full-fledged citizens of the United States of America. 

6.  In time, they joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (A fine LINK, where you can read more about Mrs. Parks and her official capacity in the NAACP. For one thing, you'll learn about brave, stubborn Civil Rights campaigner, E. D. Nixon, who, among other things, helped get Rosa Parks out of jail!)

7.  E.D. Nixon and Mr. and Mrs. Parks were among the many black and some of the progressive white citizens of Montgomery, AL, who were DETERMINED to change the fact that their town's busses were segregated.  Lest African Americans ever forget that they were 2nd class citizens, city leaders made them sit AT THE BACK of the BUS.  AND, if the bus was crowded and a white someone wanted a seat at the back, any black someone must get UP and give up his or her seat. Distinctly unfair! Later on, seamstress Rosa Parks would say that all she was doing, on the 1st of December, 1955, was "trying to get home from work." 

8. True, but Mrs. Parks was also tired, sick and tired of hundreds of years of ugly treatment and inequality.  Rosa Parks was photo'd getting fingerprinted, having her mugshot taken, and sitting on a bus seat that she's REFUSED  to give up to a white person.  Rosa Parks became a national symbol, but she and thousands more had come to a fateful decision:  By golly, they would protest and STOP this unfairness.  They would WALK - even when they were exhausted... even when it was pouring down rain –instead of riding their town's busses.   So, with Mrs. Parks' arrest, began the MONTGOMERY [AL] BUS BOYCOTT.

9. Though white authorities did all they could to BREAK the famous Bus Boycottit lasted for more than a YEAR.  It ONLY ENDED on December 20, 1956, thanks to all of those proud, stubborn walkers. Thanks to drivers who risked arrest giving a walker a ride. Thanks to walking, writing, working, protesting and speaking by Rosa and Raymond Parks, their fellow activists,  E.D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy, and the charismatic minister, chosen to lead the boycott , Martin Luther King, Jr.

10, AND, now that Rosa and the rest of the valiant protestors had gotten Alabama's attention, judges declared that bus segregation was UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

11. SO. The CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT was over now?  Nope. Really, it had just begun.

12.   Besides the self-empowerment institute  Rosa founded in honor of Raymond (after he died in 1977), Rosa Parks spent the rest of her long life supporting the causes in which she believed.  She told her story in a fine book for young readers, too, in 1992. Though the citizens and the Congress of the U.S. would refer to her as  "The First Lady of Civil Rights," ROSA PARKS, 'the Mother of the Freedom Movement,' was humble about the part she played. Until she died, 24 Oct. 2005, when she was 92.


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