February 4, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white rider.

This action sparked a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, and therefore played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement that resulted in many changes to local, state, and national laws.

If you don't know much about this incident, check out this earlier post. It's not just important, it's also interesting! 

Today is Rosa Parks's birthday – she was born on this date in 1913 – so I will ask the question, what was Parks's life before she became a civil rights icon?

Rosa Parks was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her dad was a carpenter, and her mom was a teacher, and she had a mixed heritage that included African, Cherokee-Creek, and Scots-Irish ancestors. Because her parents separated, Parks grew up on a farm with her grandparents, her mom, and her younger brother.

Parks experienced a lot of kindness from white people, but also a lot of racism and hatred. The very structure of her life was filled with discrimination and bigotry; this structural racism showed Parks, even when she was a small child, that the government and the powerful were against “her kind.” Here are a few examples:

  • Jim Crow laws had taken away the vote from most black people in Alabama and other southern states (even though the U.S. Constitution guaranteed their right to vote!).

  • Segregation was established by law in public facilities, stores, and transportation.
  • School buses carried white children to school, but black children had to walk.
  • Police didn't catch and punish Ku Klux Klan members, even when they hurt or killed black people or destroyed their property. (Actually, many police officers were also members of the Ku Klux Klan.)
Rosa Parks struggled to get an education but had to quit school to take care of her mother and grandmother. She didn't get her high school diploma until she was a married adult—but at that point only 7% of all black people in Alabama got their high school diploma!

She also struggled to get around those Jim Crow laws and overcome the resistance of the registrars. On her third try, she was finally able to register to vote.

Rosa Parks took many jobs, ranging from maid to hospital aide, and she became a valued member of the Civil Rights movement. She became the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP (one of the earliest civil rights organizations).

But it was not as secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP that she refused to get out of that bus seat that fateful day in 1943. It was as just a citizen of Montgomery and Alabama and the United States of America, just Rosa McCauley Parks, that she acted for herself, and her people, and all people.

By the way, February is Black History Month.

Also on this date:

Sri Lanka's Independence Day

No comments:

Post a Comment