WOTM: Rosa Parks

The lady we have chosen for this issue’s Woman of The Month has the spirit of a hardworking, courages, compassionate leader who decided to do the right thing for the right reasons. She had fought for her understanding and civil rights as a citizen of her country. She chose to make an ordinary life into an extraordinary journey of peaceful defiance against the many indignities faced by black Americans in the 1950’s. She was Rosa Parks.

What was life back then? A person was discriminated just because of the colour of their skin. Racial segregation and discrimination which included separate restaurants, toilets, sitting arrangements on public transportation were all based on what was called the Jim Crow Laws. Jim Crow is a derogatory term of a black American slave made into a song in the 1830’s. It was a cruel stereotype. All this was down to one thing, the ugly side of racism in America which unfortunately continues on to haunt many other nations and societies. Racism is morally, philosophically and universally unacceptable. It goes against basic human rights, human dignity and human decency. Unless all of us stand up and fight against racism then we too, would be guilty of allowing such a horrible event to re-occur itself. So, to build a better world let us all be like Rosa Parks. She is the 'spark' of the civil rights movement. Her single, non-violent actions define how the civil rights movement would be fought in the streets, farm lands, the towns, cities and the capitol of the nation. Her selfless dignified, defiant, demeanour captured in the famous photo of her sitting in the bus is as iconic as the photo of man's first step on the moon or the marines' raising the flag in ewojima would shape the visual narrative of America.

Born in Alabama, United States on the 4th of February 1913, Rosa Parks was raised by her parents who were both working as slaves of the government. Parks grew up suffering from poor health with chronic tonsillitis which she later on fought against for 5 years. After the separation of her parents, Parks moved away to Montgomery where she lived in a farm with her mother, younger brother and maternal grandparents. She attended rural schools until the age of eleven as the black students were not allowed to mix with the white students. Parks had attended an all girls school where she took academic and vocational courses and managed to succeed in receiving outstanding grades. She recalled having to walk to school as the busses only took the white students to their new school. “I'd see the bus pass every day... But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realised there was a black world and a white world.” quotes Rosa. In the midst of her high school years, Parks had to quit school to stay at home in order to care after her ill grandmother and mother. Since her family was too poor to hire a nurse, Parks had to care for them as well as work many jobs in order to pay for their medical bills.

Although Parks has many 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. Rosa’s school which was for black children, was burned twice by arsonists. Both times, she had volunteered to help re-build the school. She was bullied a lot by white children in her neighbourhood which caused her to often fight back, physically. Later on she quoted, “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 Parks married Raymond Parks who was a member of the NAACP, which was collecting money to support the defence of a group of black men who were falsely accused of raping two white women. Rosa supported and stood by him throughout this whole project. Contributing to the cost of their lives, Rosa took numerous jobs to help support her husband. With the urge of her husband, Rosa finished her high school studies in 1933 which included her in the 7% of African Americans who had a high school diploma at the time. She not only managed to achieve one of the hardest challenges during that time, but she had also accomplished it well. Later on, Rosa had succeeded in registering to vote on her third try after fighting for her right of this against the Jim Crow Law and discrimination by registrars. 

Rosa Parks began to become active in the Civil Rights Movement in 1943 when she had also joined in the NAACP. Later on, she was elected as secretary for her handwork and determination in the team. “I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no.” says Parks later on. Maintaining her status as secretary, Parks had also continue on to work with the local NAACP leader, E.D Nixon. These two had a very interesting conversation that struck the attention of many. E.D Nixon had said, “Women don't need to be nowhere but in the kitchen.”. When Rosa had asked “Well, what about me?”, he replied “I need a secretary and you are a good one.”. 

With her role as secretary, Rosa Parks began investigating the gang-rape of Recy Taylor, a black woman from her hometown. Herself and other civil rights activists managed to organise the ‘Committee for Equal Justice for Ms. Recy Taylor’. When this campaigned launched, the Chicago Defender called it "the strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade”. During this time, Parks and her husband attended a huge number of meetings to discuss the Scottsboro case and began getting involved with many more. This was the start of her civil rights movement, this was the beginning of it all.

In 1990, a new rule to the seating chart in a bus was established. The bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black bus riders to move when there were no white-only seats left. These buses had “coloured” sections for black people even though the blacks were 75% of the ridership. For many years, the black community had complained that such a rule was unfair. “My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest...I did a lot of walking in Montgomery.” quotes Rosa Parks. An event had occurred one day in 1943 where a bus driver had asked Rosa Parks to exit the bus and enter through the “coloured” doorway. Exiting the bus, the driver had quickly drove off leaving Rosa Parks in the rain miles away from her home. Years later, Parks had gone into the same bus and sat at the designated “coloured” section. Because the “white-seats” started to fill up, the driver asked a few blacks to give their seats up to the white passengers. Although the other 3 men stood, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. “I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen.”, says Rosa Parks. Because of her refusal to move, the bus driver had Parks arrested. Not only did Rosa Parks stand up for herself, she stood up for all the other African-Americans that were being pushed around. This was the moment where she had started a revolution. “People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”.

Rosa Parks was a magnificent lady with a pure, wise and strong heart. Her bravery and courage inspired so many others to fight for their own rights as well as those around her. Although she has passed on, her legacy still and forever will live. You will forever be in our hearts Rosa and we thank you for everything. 


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