Tuesday, October 25, 2005
ROSA PARKS: 1913-2005
I realize that I've already done my post for the week, but I felt compelled to take note of Rosa Parks' passing. Here is one of many articles published today. -- Daniel Olivas
ROSA PARKS: 1913-2005
Revered icon of civil rights
Rosa Parks' refusal to give up seat to a white man set off Montgomery bus boycott in '50s
By E.R. Shipp, New York Times
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Rosa Parks, a black seamstress whose refusal to relinquish her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., almost 50 years ago grew into a mythic event that helped touch off the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, died Monday. She was 92 years old.
Her death was confirmed by former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who served as Parks' guardian.
For her act of defiance, Parks was arrested, convicted of violating segregation laws and fined. In response, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the buses for nearly 13 months while mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law that enforced their second-class status on the public bus system.
The events that began on that bus in the winter of 1955 captivated the nation and transformed a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. into a major civil rights leader.
"Mrs. Parks' arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest," King wrote in his 1958 book, "Stride Toward Freedom." "The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices."
Her act of civil disobedience, what seems a simple gesture of defiance so many years later, was in fact a dangerous, even reckless move in 1950s Alabama. In refusing to move, she risked legal sanction and perhaps even physical harm, but she also set into motion something far beyond the control of the city authorities. Parks clarified for public consumption far beyond Montgomery the cruelty and humiliation inherent in the laws and customs of segregation.
That moment on the Cleveland Avenue bus also turned a very private woman into a reluctant symbol and torchbearer in the quest for racial equality and of a movement that became increasingly organized and sophisticated in making demands and getting results.
Over the years, myth tended to obscure the truth about Parks. One legend had it that she was a cleaning woman with bad feet who was too tired to drag herself to the rear of the bus. The truth, as she later explained, was that she was tired of being humiliated, of having to adapt to the byzantine rules, some codified as law and others passed on as tradition, that reinforced the position of blacks as something less than full human beings.
"She was fed up," said Elaine Steele, a longtime friend and executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. "She was in her 40s. She was not a child. There comes a point where you say, 'No, I'm a full citizen, too. This is not the way I should be treated.' "
Parks was active in the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. She and her husband, Raymond, a barber, had taken part in voter registration drives.
At the urging of an employer, Virginia Durr, Parks had attended an interracial leadership conference at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., in the summer of 1955. There, she later said, she "gained strength to persevere in my work for freedom, not just for blacks but for all oppressed people."
But as she rushed home from her job as a seamstress at a department store Dec. 1, 1955, the last thing on her mind was becoming "the mother of the civil rights movement," as many would later describe her. She had to send out notices of the NAACP's coming election of officers. And she had to prepare for the leadership workshop where she would be the host for teenagers that weekend.
"So it was not a time for me to be planning to get arrested," she said in 1988.
On Montgomery buses, the first four rows were reserved for whites. The rear was for blacks, who made up more than 75 percent of the bus system's riders. Blacks could sit in the middle rows until those seats were needed by whites. Then the blacks had to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Even getting on the bus presented hurdles: If whites were already sitting in the front, blacks could board to pay the fare but then had to disembark and re-enter through the rear door.
For years blacks had complained, and Parks was no exception. "My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest," she said. "I did a lot of walking in Montgomery."
Her arrest was the answer to the prayers of the Women's Political Council, which was set up in 1946 in response to the mistreatment of black bus riders, and for E.D. Nixon, a leading advocate of equality for blacks in Montgomery.
Blacks had been arrested, and even killed, for disobeying bus drivers. They had begun to build a case around a 15-year-old girl's arrest in March 1955 for refusing to give up her seat, and Parks had been among those raising money for the girl's defense. But when they learned that the teenager was pregnant, they decided that she was an unsuitable symbol for their cause.
While Nixon met with lawyers and preachers to plan an assault on the Jim Crow laws, the women's council distributed 35,000 copies of a handbill that urged blacks to boycott the buses on Monday, Dec. 5, the day of Parks' trial.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, the announcement was made from many black pulpits, and a front-page article in the Montgomery Advertiser further spread the word. Some blacks rode in carpools that Monday. Most black commuters -- 40,000 people -- walked, some more than 20 miles, to and from their jobs.
At a church rally that night, blacks agreed to continue the boycott.
The boycott lasted 381 days, and in that period many blacks were harassed and arrested on flimsy excuses. Churches and houses, including those of King and Nixon, were dynamited.
Finally, on Nov. 13, 1956, in the case of Browder vs. Gayle, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on the city's buses. The court order arrived in Montgomery on Dec. 20; the boycott ended the next day. But the violence escalated: Snipers fired into buses as well as King's home; bombs were tossed into churches and into the homes of ministers, including the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy; some blacks were beaten by roving bands of whites.
Early the next year, the Parkses left Montgomery for Hampton, Va., largely because Parks had been unable to find work but also because of disagreements with King and other leaders of the city's struggling civil rights movement. In Virginia, Parks worked as hostess in the faculty dining hall at the Hampton Institute, a black college.
Later that year, Parks, her husband and her mother, Leona McCauley, moved to Detroit. Parks worked as a seamstress until 1965, when Rep. John Conyers Jr. hired her as an aide for his office in Detroit. She retired in 1988.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Ala., Feb. 4, 1913, the elder of Leona and James McCauley's two children. Although the McCauleys were farmers, James McCauley also worked as a carpenter and Leona McCauley as a teacher.
Rosa McCauley attended rural schools until she was 11 years old, then Miss White's School for Girls in Montgomery. She attended high school at the Alabama State Teachers College, but dropped out to care for her ailing grandmother. It was not until she was 21, and had been married for two years, that she earned a high school diploma.
Parks' husband, Raymond, died in 1977. There are no immediate survivors.