Rosa Parks was a fierce leader of the civil rights movement who understood from a very young age what racism does to Black people.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we look back at the defiance and bravery of Rosa Parks that paved the way for the civil rights movement. It was on December 1, 1955, that Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and took a seat at the front of the bus. The seats at the front had been reserved for white people while the ones at the back were reserved for African Americans. As passengers filled the bus, the driver told Rosa Parks to move but she refused. She sat in her seat and stared out of the window in an act of defiance. She was arrested and it led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which eventually led to desegregation.
She was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4th, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. Growing up in a segregated environment, Parks was met with racial discrimination and violence at every turn. From a very young age, she was active in the Civil Rights Movement. At 19, she married Raymond Parks, who was also very active in the movement. She was elected secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
After she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, she was also instrumental in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She soon became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. Since the revolutionary act, many have attempted to diminish the role Parks has played in the civil rights movement and beyond. They have painted her as a seamstress who didn't give up her seat simply because she was tired and not as an act of resistance. But, nothing could be further from the truth. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in,” she said, according to Women's History.
Parks has a long history of fighting white supremacy. “I talked and talked of everything I know about the white man’s inhuman treatment of the negro,” she once wrote, reported The Washington Post. Even during her stint with the NAACP, she spent a lot of her energy pushing for voter registration, seeking justice for Black victims of white brutality and sexual violence. She also pushed for the desegregation of schools and public spaces. She described Malcolm X as her personal hero.
Parks' early writing also reveals the immense pressure a Black person faced on a daily basis. She wrote that it takes a “major mental acrobatic feat” to survive as a Black person in America. She also added that it was “not easy to remain rational and normal mentally in such a setting.” She was a fighter from a very small age and it caused her grandmother to worry about her “talking biggety to white folks.” She recalls her grandmother being angry with her after she picked up a brick to challenge a white bully. “I would rather be lynched than live to be mistreated and not be allowed to say ‘I don’t like it,’” she defiantly told her grandmother. She also elaborated on the toll racial discrimination takes on Black people. “There is just so much hurt, disappointment and oppression one can take…. The line between reason and madness grows thinner,” she wrote.
Parks and her husband eventually moved to Hampton, Virginia before permanently settling in Detroit, Michigan. She died of natural causes on October 24th, 2005, at the age of 92. During a testimonial for a fellow activist, she said, “Freedom fighters never retire,” and nothing characterizes Parks better.