Preamble: Paula Deen, celebrity cook for the Food Network, was fired in May, 2013 for racial slurs. She admitted to an idea to dress Afro-Americans as slaves for her brother’s wedding. This marks one hundred years after the birth of Rosa Parks, famed activist and known as the woman who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1951.
Rosa Parks Changes American History:
Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913 into the segregated southern states of the USA. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger resulted in a city-wide bus boycott in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. The bus company had no choice but to lift the law requiring segregation on public buses.
It was not an easy boycott. Afro-American maids working for white folk had to walk to and from work, but perseverance paid off. Rosa is quoted as saying: “At the time I was arrested, I had no idea it would turn out like this. It was just a day like any other. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of people joined in.”
Early childhood: Rosa’s parents separated when she was a child and Rosa went to live with her grandparents who were former slaves. The KKK were visible and Rosa remembers her grandfather standing with a shotgun while the KKK marched by his home.
Segregation at Rosa’s school was blatant. White students were bussed while black students walked to the old school; the whites attend the new building. Rosa’s education was interrupted when she had to leave school to look after her ailing grandparents.
Marriage and Activism: Rosa married at age 19 to Raymond Parks, a barber and political activist for NAACP (National Advancement Association for Colored People). Raymond supported his wife and she earned a high school diploma in 1933. Rosa joined her husband in NAACP activities.
The Bus Incident : On December 1, 1955, Rosa (aged 42) boarded the bus after a hard days work as a seamstress in the Montgomery store. As was customary, Afro-American customers paid their fares, got back off the bus and proceeded to re-enter at the back door. They sat at the back of the bus while white folks sat at the front. There was a middle line, half way down the bus, and as more whites got on the bus, the front row of black riders had to give up their seats. Rosa refused to give up her seat and the driver called the police. Rosa stated later that she was both physically tired and also tired of giving up her seat to white passengers.
On December 5, 1955 the NAACP met at the Mt. Zion Church in Montgomery. They formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, electing a newcomer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
On the other side, segregationists retaliated with violence. Black churches were burned and violence broke out as blacks and white supporters marched for freedom. In Little Rock, James Meredith fought hard to be the first black admitted to a ‘white’ university.
Rosa Parks and her husband both lost their jobs, and they moved to Detroit, Michigan where both continued to support the movement.
In 1992, Rosa published “Rosa Parks: My Story and in 195 she published Quiet
Strength which includes her memoirs and focuses on the role that her religious faith played in her life. Below are the rewards reaped on Rosa.
Awards: NAACP’s highest award, Martin Luther King Jr. Award
1996 the Presidential Medal of Freedom
1997 the Congressional Gold Medal
1999 Time Magazine placed her on the list of the “The 20 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.” She died on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan.