Audiences best know Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, which impacted the Civil Rights Movement and led to a city-wide boycott of the transit system, but her story doesn’t begin or end there.
Born in 1913, Rosa grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, living under the racism and restrictions of the Jim Crow laws. From an early age, she bristled under the unjust life in the Deep South but held fast to her convictions. Raised in a devout Christian family, Rosa credited her faith for giving her the strength she needed to face life’s battles. Bible, devotions, and prayer were an integral part of her life. Her education came to a halt when she became a caretaker for her grandmother and, later on, her mother.
She had a variety of occupations, but became a seamstress. Rosa met and married Raymond Parks, a barber and a member of the NAACP. Under his influence and encouragement, Rosa completed her education and joined the NAACP, and later became the secretary for the Montgomery chapter.
Charged by the NAACP, Rosa investigated the case of Recy Taylor, an African American woman abducted and raped by six white men. Rosa’s research was instrumental for the prosecution and though the mens’ guilt was self-evident, the case was dismissed twice. Another case close to her husband’s heart was the Scottsboro case. The Scottsboro Boys were a group of young African American men who falsely convicted of raping two white women although one victim recanted her statement. And finally, Emmet Till, the young man from the north who was visiting relatives in the south, dared to flirt with a white girl. Emmet was kidnapped, tortured and mutilated, before being shot and dumped in a river.
Rosa said it best, the day she decided not to give up her seat, she had been tired. Tired of all she and others had to face on a daily basis simply to survive in a hate-filled world. Tired of watching innocent people suffer for the color of their skin and not receive the justice and equality that was due them. Tired that nothing seemed to change.
Rosa had left work and boarded the bus that would transfer her home. She sat in the “colored” section, which was quartered off from the “white” section. The bus soon filled up and as was customary, the driver ordered her and a few others to forfeit their seats for white passengers.
The others complied, but Rosa refused.
The bus driver threatened that he’d have to call the police. This was not the first time Rosa had a run-in with this bus driver. Years before, on a rainy day, she had boarded to pay her dues, and rather than get off and re-enter in the back as was customary, Rosa attempted to sit down. The driver forced her off the bus and left her stranded in the rain. This time however, Rosa would not give in. “Since I have always been a strong believer in God,” she later said, “I knew He was with me, and only He could get me through that next step.”
She got arrested and bailed out of jail later that evening.
Rosa was one of many who had refused to forfeit her seat on this bus. However, with her position at the NAACP, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr lead his new organization into a boycott of the bus transit system. They planned the boycott to last for a day, and instead it lasted for more than a year. Only when the city was affected financially was the law for segregation on buses revoked.
They won that battle, but the war against racism and unconstitutional laws raged on. Rosa’s job was not done, she had more to do for the cause. Her life’s work came at a heavy price though—she and her husband both lost their jobs and facing death threats, they were forced to leave Alabama and settle in Detroit. Despite no longer living in the south, segregation existed in the northern states. Racism is not regional. Losing her husband and brother in the 1970s affected her, but her dedication to Civil Rights never wavered and the faith she clung to brought her comfort. Never wealthy, Rosa gave most of what she had to charities. In her 80s, she had become an inspiration to many, and received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Her death in 2005, at 92, left the world in mourning for the brave woman who never gave up the good fight and always chose love over hatred.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.