Sitting Down to Take a Stand: Rosa Parks' Actions Advanced the Fight for Civil Rights

Article excerpt

Known as the "mother of the modern-day civil rights movement," Rosa Parks was influenced by her family members' strength, faith in God and belief in racial equality. Born Rosa Louise McCauley on Feb. 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Ala., Parks eventually set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful nonviolent protests in history.

"As a child, I learned from the Bible to trust in God and not be afraid."

When Rosa was just a toddler, her parents separated and she and her mother moved to Pine Level, Ala., to live with her grandparents, Sylvester

and Rose Edwards. The Edwards were former slaves and strong advocates for civil rights, which made them targets of the local Ku Klux Klan. Parks recalled nights when the KKK would march down the street outside the family's house. "My grandfather never seemed afraid," Parks wrote in her book Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation. "At night he would sit with his shotgun and say that he did not know how long he would last, but if they came breaking in our home, he was going to get the. first one who came through the door. Me never looked for trouble, but he believed in defending his home." Parks7 personal experience of racism, along with the tenacity she learned from her grandparents, began to set the stage for Parks' future activism in the civil rights movement.

"Long ago I set my mind to be a free person and not to give in to fear. I always felt that it was my right to defend myself if I could."

Though Parks intended to complete her education at the Alabama State Teachers Colleges high school, in 1929 she left to care for her dying grandmother and her ill mother, finding work at a Montgomery shirt factory Three years later, she married a young barber, Raymond Parks. Though he had little formal education himself, Raymond encouraged Rosa to complete her schooling, and in 1933, she earned her high school diploma.

Raymond and Rosa Parks shared a passion for civil rights. Raymond was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and before their marriage, Rosa was an activist in the fight to free the "Scottsboro Boys," a group of young black males accused of gang-raping two white females--a landmark set of legal cases dealing with race and the right to a fair trial. Rosa also became very involved in the local Montgomery NAACP chapter in 1943, and in addition to contributing as a youth leader, she served as the secretary to the president until 1957.

"After so many years of oppression and being victim of the mistreatment that my people had suffered, not giving up my seat--and whatever I had to face after not giving up my seat--was not important."

At that time, the Montgomery city code segregated public transportation and gave police officers and bus drivers equal authority to enforce the code. If the bus became crowded and more whites boarded, the code gave the driver authority to increase the designated white seating and offer less room to black passengers. If a bus driver asked a black passenger to give up his seat and the black passenger refused, the driver could call the police and have him removed.

On Dec. 1, 1955, after a long day of working at the Montgomery Fair department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus to return home. She found a seat in the first couple rows designated for "colored passengers." As the route continued, the bus started to fill. The driver noticed white passengers standing while black passengers sat comfortably The driver increased the designated white seating, asking four black passengers to relinquish their seats. …