Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rosa Parks - First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement

By Victor Porrello

Rosa Louise McCauley (Parks) was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4th. 1913. Her father James was a carpenter and her mother Leona was a teacher. At a young age her parents separated and her mother moved her and her younger brother to Pine Level just outside of Montgomery Alabama to live on her maternal grandparents farm. Rosa was a small child for her age and suffered ill health growing up.

It was at this time in her young life that she became a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which she remained a member for her entire life. She went to the local school until the age of 11 when her mother enrolled her in the Industrial Schools for Girls in Montgomery. Rosa later attended a school set up by the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes for secondary education but never graduated. She was forced to drop out to take care of her ailing grandmother then soon after her ailing mother. She never had the opportunity to return to school.

Rosa grew up in a time when the Jim Crow laws were in effect. These state and local laws were to created to enforce segregation between the whites and blacks that encompassed all facets of society. There was segregation in schools, restaurants, restroom facilities, even drinking fountains had whites only or black only designations. Even though the Jim Crow laws called for separate but equal status for blacks this was not the case. The economic, social and educational disadvantages for black people under the auspices of this law were obvious.

In 1932 Rosa married Raymond Parks, who was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or what is commonly known as the NAACP. Her husband was very supportive of his wife and he was instrumental in Rosa going back to school to get her high school diploma which she received in 1933. At this time less than 10% of blacks had successfully finished high school.

It was in 1943 that she became an active member of the Civil Rights Movement, joining the Montgomery NAACP chapter. In 1944 Rosa experienced her first taste of equality in her job on Maxwell Air Force Base. Segregation was not allowed on the base. Her brief stint there was a big influence on events that took place years later. Another influence on her life were a couple by the name of Clifford and Virginia Durrs. Rosa worked as a housekeeper for this white liberal couple and in time she became friends with her employers. The Durrs encouraged and sponsored Parks to attend the Highlander Folk School. In the summer of 1955 Rosa attended the education center for workers rights and racial equality.

Her involvement with the NAACP, her experience of Maxwell Air Force Base, her summer at the Highlander Folk School and her religious beliefs, everything that made Rosa Parks the person she was came to the forefront that fateful day on December 1st 1955. At 6pm after leaving the Montgomery department store where she worked, Rosa boarded the bus for home. She sat in the first row of seats that were designated for blacks only. Several stops later with more people on the bus there was standing room only with several white people standing. The bus driver told the blacks in the front black section to get up and stand in the back in order to have enough seating for the whites. Parks refused to give up her seat and she was arrested. She was bailed out the next day on December 2nd.

Parks actions that day on the bus was the catalyst for the boycotting of riding on the buses by blacks. The boycott on December 5th, just 4 days after her arrest was a huge success. That night a new organization was created called the Montgomery Improvement Association and the then unknown Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was made its president. It was agreed that the boycott of the buses would continue until the laws were changed and blacks would have the right to sit anywhere on the bus.

Rosa Parks' actions not only inspired the busing boycott but also raised national and international awareness of black Afro-Americans. This began the rapid growth of the movement for equality and justice for all people, blacks, poor whites and all those seeking racial justice and equality in the opportunities and freedom in our nation.

Rosa Parks died at the age of 93 on October 29th, 2005. She will always be remembered as an African civil rights activist and as the U.S. Congress deemed her "the first lady of civil rights". Her courage and determination to stand up for the rights of all people will continue to inspire the generations to come to be steadfast in our beliefs.

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