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Rosa Parks: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement

Introduction

Rosa Lousie McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 to October 27, 2005) has been described as the “Mother of the Modern-day Civil Rights Movement,” in the United States of America (Parks). She had selflessly dedicated her entire lifetime for the cause of underprivileged and segregated colored sections of this country.

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Beneath a frail and gentle exterior, Rosa Parks possessed nerves of solid steel, which, along with extraordinary courage and tenacity, guided her to overcome major difficulties and challenges in her ninety two years of living on earth. She carried on her onerous tasks of consolidating the task of integrating African American people into the main stream of American society predominate by whites, with a remarkable degree of success and perhaps unwittingly, gained large number of honors and titles. She also earned a permanent place in the history of American Civil Movement, having spearheaded this movement of equal rights with white men, at a time of history when few Southerners dare to resist, let along challenge the overbearing dominance of white majority rule with scant respect or attention for the rights of colored people. One of her many achievements as a strong icon in the annals of African American civil movement has been the lifting of segregation laws in buses, which was pronounced unconstitutional and outlawed by the American Supreme Court in November 1956.

Besides as a pioneering founder of the Montgomery Improvement Association, formed on December 5, 1955, she worked with its new elected President, Martin Luther King, Jr. for the cause of upliftment of the African American population in this country. “Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the MIA was instrumental in guiding the Montgomery bus boycott, a successful campaign that focused national attention on racial segregation in the South and catapulted King into the national spotlight” (Montgomery Improvement Association).

Rosa Parks has, indeed, been an iconic figure for the cause of civil movement in the United States.

Most important events of Rosa Park’s life

It was during the year 1932 that Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber by profession. Raymond persuaded her to continue her studies and she managed to complete high school schooling the next year, a major achievement during those times when only a small percentage of African American children completed their schooling.

During December 1943, she became an important member in the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when she was chosen as the voluntary secretary to President of the this organization. She served this organization with distinction.

Perhaps the turning point of Rosa Parks’s life (and perhaps the fate of the African American civil movement) was her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man on December 1, 1955. Her arrest, trial and the public uproar and protests that led to a 381 day boycott of bus services in Montgomery catapulted her image to that of a local icon of sorts, and ensured the abolition of a 55 year old law which ensured seat segregation for white people on public buses in this State. Ironically, this event also brought together the black community to form a Montgomery Improvement Association in this region. This event also brought Martin Luther King (Jr) to the forefront of the civil rights movement.

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Explain segregation in the 1950s

There were distinct color and racial segregation in all walks of life during the 1950s, during which era; the whites had all privileges and powers while the marginalized black communities were treated like cattle. The latter were deprived of even their basic fundamental human rights guaranteed under the American Constituon and were forced to lead a life of despair, disillusionment and discontentment. They were not even allowed to sit freely on public buses and had special back seats reserved for them while the white people could occupy preferential front rows. All these kinds of ill treatment at the hands of white masters gave rise to a plethora of lawsuits, but the enactment of arbitrary and one sided laws ensured that the colored people were denied their rights and privileges. Autocratic laws, like the Jim Crow laws were enacted to safeguard and protect rights of the white majority. While the colored population were no doubt, hurt and disillusioned by such racial discrimination, they could not provide a united stand against tyranny and oppression, and besides they did not have strong leadership that could fight their cause to its ultimate conclusion. Besides this, “Beginning in the late 19th century, state and local governments passed segregation laws, known as Jim Crow laws, and mandated restrictions on voting qualifications that left the black population economically and politically powerless. The movement therefore addressed primarily three areas of discrimination: education, social segregation, and voting rights” (Civil Rights Movement).

Describe her act of civil disobedience

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a local bus that would take her to her place of work as a seamstress at a departmental store. When she boarded the bus, she observed that there were some seats vacant in the front row of the back seats, after the reserved seats for white people. Accordingly to existing Montgomery laws, the bus conductor was vested with the powers to use ‘Colored’ signboards to adjust and accommodate seats for white people. As the bus went along more passengers entered the bus, and soon all the white seats were full. At this point of time, more passengers entered the bus, and due to lack of seats some white people were forced to stand. When the conductor perceived white people standing and colored people sitting, he placed the signboard behind the seat where Rosa Parks was sitting and required all the passengers to give their seats to the white passengers. While others complied, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to the white passenger. Altercations followed, but Rosa refused to change her stance. Even warnings that she would face arrest if she violated the norms did not unnerve her. Eventually, she was arrested on the charges that she, a colored female was sitting in the white sections of the bus and would not go back, this constituting an offence under Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Montgomery City Code. “Since the City Code gave bus drivers the “powers of a police officer of the city” while driving the bus, any order had to be obeyed” (History of Boycott Through Images & Documents: The Montgomery City Code). Her alleged act of civil disobedience led to her arrest, confinement and fining, but sparked off black protests all over the region. The African American community boycotted the use of bus services for 381 days, forcing the bus administration authorities to withdraw their racial segregation policies in buses.

Analysis of the outcome

Perhaps the immediate outcome was that Rosa lost her job as a seamstress in the departmental store where she worked. The fact that she had disobeyed white orders and let an unprecedented mass movement perhaps would have led to this dismissal. There were mixed reactions to this act of civil obedience. Minority black population became victims of mob violence and many had their houses torched and propertied destroyed. Powerful politically backed mobs like Ku Klux Klan were able to carry on violent activates with apparent impunity and disdain for law.

But on the positive side, the withdrawal of racial discrimination and segregation marked the beginning of a long and arduous struggle by the minority AA for self esteem and struggles for gaining equal rights and privileges with preferential white segment of the population. This incident only provide more support and encouragement for the minority communities and even helped in providing a common platform for fighting for their just claims and demands against an autocratic and despotic white rule. This incident also helped in the formation of “what was known as the Montgomery Improvement Association, on the afternoon of December 5th. Dr. Martin Luther King became very prominent in this movement, so he was chosen as a spokesman and the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association” (Parks).

Besides the fact that this incident also made her a kind of local hero, who had perhaps single-handedly, challenged the powers of the white majority rule, fully knowing about the consequences. The fact remained that this also served as a source of inspiration and motivation for freedom and free will loving people not only in the United States but also in other parts of the worked. For instance, Dr. Nelson Mandela of South Africa has also drawn inspiration and courage from the life and activities of Rosa Parks during his long incarceration in jail.

The struggle of the black minority in the US has been the leading cause for proliferation of crusading organizations like Montgomery Improvement Association and other like minded social institutions. It has also spurred the government to introduce major reforms in segregationist and other discriminatory laws that could afford all sections of American society to live and let live in peace and harmony, eschewing parochial thinking and racial discrimination.

Conclusion

Rosa Parks’s life and deeds are indeed rousing and offers a clarion call for free thinking people all over the world to emulate her struggles and wins for social equality, justice and the need for an equal classless society that could promote community harmony and true social order. Despite several odds and seemingly insurmountable personal tragedies, her story has been one of utmost courage and perseverance for the just cause of her people. It is indeed in the fitness of things that successive governments have honored her with exemplary awards and accolades including the Spingam Medal by the NAACP in 1979, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, and finally the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. All these awards and tributes only serve to exemplify the immense contribution provide by her undying spirit, her resolve and her enduring and perennial love for her people. In true patriotic style, her life has been an open memoir of how the courage and tenacity of a crusader could change the course of American history and offer a better deal for her people. Not only has Rosa Parks been able to change the destinies of many fellow African Americans but, through her actions she has also demonstrated that faith, courage and personal sacrifice are qualities that could even alter the density of nations in the face of challenges and major obstacles to governance.

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References

Civil Rights Movement. Teachers. Web.

History of Boycott Through Images & Documents: The Montgomery City Code. Downtown Campus Library. Web.

Montgomery Improvement Association. Martin Luther King JR. Web.

Parks, Rosa. How I Fight for Civil Rights. Teachers. 2010. Web.

Parks, Rosa. Standing Up For Freedom. Academy of Achievement. 2005. Web.

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