Black Women Who Slayed History: Rosa Parks
This Black History Month, we’re highlighting the black woman who helped make our world what it is today. Today, we honor Civil Rights Activist, Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks is remembered as a monumental figure in Black History but the thing she is most remembered for hardly begins to capture the kind of person she truly was and all that she stood for.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Parks grew up in rural Alabama and dealt with segregation and issues of racism from an early age. As a young person she got into altercations with white children. In one instance when a white boy tried to push her off of a sidewalk, she fought back and pushed him. In another incident when she was threatened by a white bully, she picked up a brick and dared the boy to hit her. Rosa Parks was feisty and willing to fight for what she believed in long before her refusal to give up her seat.
Parks didn’t receive her high school diploma until after she was married. She met her husband Raymond Parks in 1931 and they ended up getting married one year later. After marrying Raymond, Parks joined him in political activism and began organizing to help nine young men who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Alabama.
Parks decided to attend her first NAACP meeting in 1943. It was here she was able to see other women working towards the same goals for equality. This gave her the push to work even harder to promote much needed change. She became the secretary of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP chapter and helped to draw attention to issues like voter registration and wrongful rape convictions of black men. Parks was determined to earn her right to vote, she worked from 1943-1945 to try and register and once she successfully did she was forced to pay back poll taxes for each year she had been old enough to vote.
Rosa Parks had a passion for law and focused her time on gaining justice for African American men and women wrongfully convicted through the criminal justice system. She notably worked to form a committee of justice following the gang rape of 24-year old Recy Taylor by six white men. Even though the men on this case weren’t indicted, Parks still fought diligently to do what she could to impact the lives of others around her.
Other cases she helped with included the Jeremiah Reeves case, a case of a 16-year-old black boy having an affair with a white neighborhood woman. Reeves got caught and the white woman called rape. Parks worked hard to advocate specifically on behalf of black women and the mistreatment of them in the South, she gave numerous speeches on the topic and issued press releases on specific cases to draw attention to wrongdoings.
In the year of 1955 the Montgomery NAACP was ready to do something drastic to promote change, they needed a figure to help spearhead their movement. Prior to Rosa Parks arrest for her refusal to give up her seat, two teenage black women were arrested for the same thing. Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith were arrested within only months apart for refusing to give up their seats but because of their ages and backgrounds, the NAACP chose not to promote their cases to help push the movement forward.
Parks became fed up. On December 1, 1955 Parks decided to refuse to give up her seat on the bus and incited a protest that would be the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks was arrested and because of her age, reputation in the community and religious background she was seen as the perfect candidate to publicize.
Even while in jail, Parks still did her best to advocate for others. She met a women in her cell who had been in jail for two months. The woman had been arrested for defending herself against her boyfriend and had no money to post bail and no way of telling her family where she was. Parks took a piece of paper with the woman’s brother’s phone number on it out of jail and got in contact with him. The woman was released a few days later.
The single act Rosa Parks committed in 1955 is definitely not all that she should known for, Parks even shared that being known for spearheading the movement in a way made her feel uncomfortable. The way she is portrayed in history marks her as a mild mannered woman who one day just had enough. Rosa Parks is so much more than that and her life story should be shared more often.
Following her arrest, Parks continued fighting for racial issues despite threats from whites and financial uncertainty, Parks dedicated her life to helping to create a better world for us to live in. Throughout her lifetime she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 by Bill Clinton, The NAACP’s highest award, the Spingarn Medal and a host of other honors and medals.
Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005 as a true inspiration. She died quietly in her apartment in Detroit, Michigan. Several memorial services were given in her honor and it is estimated that about 50,000 people viewed her casket at the Capital Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The chapel in Detroit where Parks and her husband rest has been renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel, in 2013 Barack Obama released a statute in her honor in the U.S. Capitol Building. Parks also received a U.S. Postal Stamp in honor of what would have been her 100th birthday on February 4, 2013.
Source: Gore, D. & Theoharis, J. & Woodard, K.. Want to Start a Revolution? Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle. New York: NYU Press, 2009.