African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

8
Self-Segregation: An Oxymoron in Black and White

Sybril M. Bennett


A HISTORIC SEPARATION

On December 1, 1955, a young seamstress, with her refusal to give up her seat, permanently altered the course of history. Rosa Parks, who was sitting in the section designated for "Coloreds," was ordered by the bus driver to move to a seat farther back to allow a White man to have her seat because the White section of the bus was fall. Parks and Reed ( 1994) say, "Bus drivers then had police powers, under both municipal and state laws, to enforce racial segregation. However, we were sitting in the section designated for colored" (p. 22). In other words, Mrs. Parks was being told to get up out of the area that the White authorities had already assigned to her to sit and relocate to another location where Whites wanted her to sit for their immediate convenience. This may sound perplexing, but it is historically accurate. Since that time, the reason Mrs. Parks challenged segregation and did not give up her seat has been the subject of individual and societal interpretations. Many have stated that she was physically weary and that her feet were tired from a long day's work. Mrs. Parks refutes this: "My feet were not tired, but I was tired--tired of unfair treatment" ( Parks & Reed, 1994, p. 25).

Affectionately known as the "Mother of the civil rights movement," Mrs. Parks' noncompliance with the bus driver's order for her to yield her seat to a White man was the catalyst for the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. As a result, on December 21, 1956, the city buses in Montgomery were legally desegregated. This meant that Blacks could choose to sit anywhere that they wanted to sit on a bus. They were no longer relegated to sitting in the area specified for Blacks or forced to relinquish their seats to White patrons. According to the legal system, it was then up to individual Blacks to decide whether to sit next to Whites or Blacks. As such, it became evident that the intent of the boycott was not to have the socially

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