Editor's Comment: Rosa Parks and Our Challenge for the Future
Harper, Frederick D., The Journal of Negro Education
It has been a little more than 50 years since Rosa Louise Parks courageously refused to give up her seat to a White man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955. Although some accounts purport that she was physically tired from a long day's work as a seamstress or assistant to a tailor, Mrs. Parks wrote later that she was also tired of segregation and the disrespectful and unfair treatment of Black people (Parks, 1992; Parks, 1997). Her decision of conscience to remain seated in the face of threats was a genuine act of civil disobedience against an immoral law of segregated seating of the races in public transportation. Moreover, Mrs. Parks's resistance to the bus driver's vociferous demand for her to get up from her seat and give it to a White person eventually resonated throughout the African American community in Montgomery-sparking a citywide boycott of public bus transportation and bringing to the local and the national forefront of racial struggle the charismatic leadership of a highly educated young preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rosa Parks was not just an ordinary person of color; she was a highly spiritual woman of character and commitment, who had been active in the local chapter of the NAACP as Secretary and member for more than a decade before her individual act of courage and resistance. Moreover, long after her 1955 bus protest, she continued to work with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations as a symbol of the movement and as a spokesperson against racial injustice and for racial improvement. She consistently, positively, and publicly spoke of her race and for human rights and dignity. Even after she was assaulted and robbed in her modest Detroit apartment at the hands of a misguided young man, she remained positive and forgiving as reflected in her comment, "I pray for this young man and the conditions in our country that made him this way" (Brinkley, 2000, p. 217).
On that December day in 1955, the time was right for Rosa Parks to spark a Black nation into the streets, because a year earlier the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down its Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) decision, and, during the same year of Rosa Parks's resistance, the Supreme Court had handed down its second Brown decision as a means of enforcing its initial decision (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 1955).
Like a spreading fire in a forest, protests against racially segregated public transportation and eating establishments during the late 1950s and the early 1960s erupted in the forms of (a) Freedom Riders that involved young Blacks and Whites who sat together on buses throughout the South in protest against segregation laws and practices related to public transportation and (b) lunch-counter protests that involved young, African American college students who sat in protest at "White-only" lunch counters throughout the South. In addition, Black parents began to test the Brown decisions by attempting to register and enroll their children into all-White schools. Among the most violent and memorable desegregation tests was the "Little Rock 9" incident of 1957, wherein nine Black youth braved hostile White crowds in order to enroll and attend Little Rock High School (Jones-Wilson, Asbury, Okazawa-Rey, Anderson, Jacobs, & Fultz, 1996). In forcing a country to change, Blacks proved that there was power in cohesive numbers and perseverance against sociopolitical resistance to change. Black protests for racial change also brought out violent behaviors by those Whites who vehemently resisted a change in culture and way of life.
Because semblances and realities of institutional and individual racism still persist in the U.S., African Americans must continue to be accountable for resistance and change-not only in confronting such racism, but, even more, in taking responsibility to improve the education and social status of African Americans and other persons of African descent throughout the diaspora. …