Rosa Parks (1913-2005):
It might seem alien to you today, but in 1950’s America, discrimination was protected and enforced by the state. One of the key ways this was done was by segregation. African Americans were told where they could eat, where they could go to school, where they could live, and where they could be buried. The effort and sacrifice of one young woman to fight against this injustice made her an international icon and earned her the title, “the first lady of civil rights”.
Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her first interaction with the systemic racism that surrounded her was during school. White children had buses to take them to school while African Americans had to walk. After graduating from school, she joined the NAACP, which is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It is an organization to help African Americans achieve justice in a legal system built to oppress them. Rosa fought for justice in numerous cases involving violence against African Americans and tried to bring the culprits to justice. Unfortunately, justice was extremely hard to find at the time. Culprits were usually allowed to walk free. The judges, always white Americans, were not willing to acknowledge the guilty members of their own race against the members of a race they judged to be inferior.
In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama the buses were segregated with different seats for African Americans and white Americans. If the whites needed more seats, the African Americans would have to move. If there was no space, they were asked to leave the bus. Rosa boarded a bus around 6 p.m. on a Thursday, December 1, 1955. She was soon asked to move and make space. Rosa Parks refused and was arrested and taken to jail. She was bailed out by her colleagues at NAACP and together they used her arrest as a symbol to fight against this discrimination.
They began with a bus boycott. The entire African American community of Montgomery joined them. The boycott continued for 381 days, more than one year! Dozens of public buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus transit company’s finances. The boycott stopped only when the city repealed its law requiring segregation on public buses.
Parks died of natural causes on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92, in her apartment on the east side of Detroit.
Parks received national recognition, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. She was not the first person to fight against segregation or use boycotts. However, her sterling reputation, struggle for justice and ultimate success in ending segregation in public transportation led to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Born: 4 February 1913, Tuskegee, Alabama
Died: 24 October 2005, Detroit, Michigan
Education: Industrial School for Girls, Montgomery, Alabama (1923 - 1934)
Major contribution: Ending segregated busses, civil right movement
More about Rosa Parks
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