Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

December 5, 1955 – E.D. Nixon and Rosa Parks lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The  boycott, a seminal event in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. The campaign lasted from December 1, 1955—when Rosa Parks, an African American woman, was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person—to December 20, 1956, when a federal ruling, Browder v. Gayle, took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional.  Many important figures in the Civil Rights Movement took part in the boycott, including Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy.

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913, to Leona (née Edwards), a teacher, and James McCauley, a carpenter. She was of African ancestry, though one of her great-grandfathers was Scots-Irish and one of her great-grandmothers was a slave of Native American descent.

Although Parks’ autobiography recounts early memories of the kindness of white strangers, she could not ignore the racism of her society. When the Ku Klux Klan marched down the street in front of their house, Parks recalls her grandfather guarding the front door with a shotgun.  The Montgromery Industrial School, founded and staffed by white northerners for black children, was burned twice by arsonists. Its faculty was ostracized by the white community.

Repeatedly bullied by white children in her neighborhood, Parks often fought back physically. She later said that “As far back as I remember, I could never think in terms of accepting physical abuse without some form of retaliation if possible.”

In 1932, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. He was a member of the NAACP, which at the time was collecting money to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black men falsely accused of raping two white women. Rosa took numerous jobs, ranging from domestic worker to hospital aide. At her husband’s urging, she finished her high school studies in 1933, at a time when less than 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma. Despite the Jim Crow laws and discrimination by registrars, she succeeded in registering to vote on her third try.

In December 1943, Parks became active in the Civil Rights Movement, joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and was elected secretary. She later said, “I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no.”

In 2013, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp (Scott No. 4742) honoring Parks on what would have been her 100th birthday.

rosa parks - usa 2013

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