A Rose for Montgomery: Bringing About an Impossible Change.
On New Year’s Day 1863, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States of America announced the Emancipation Proclamation. This granted freedom to the slaves in the confederate states, and although word of this did not reach all slave owners straight away, eventually, all African-Americans were freed from their lives of servitude. But they still had a long way to go. Racial discrimination and hatred was still strong within the country. This was as true for residents of Montgomery, Alabama, as anywhere else, but they were lucky enough to have a silver lining – this was where Rosa Parks would leave her mark on history.
Rosa Parks as a Person.
Nothing extraordinary happened in Rosa’s young life. She grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama, on her maternal grandparents’ farm (who had both been former slaves). Her mother lived there too, and the four of them tried to live peacefully, despite the unrest between white and black people in their area. Even as a child, Rosa found discrimination as problem as she attended a segregated school where African-American students were not even permitted to ride the school bus with their white peers.
As soon as she was able, Rosa moved from Tuskegee to Montgomery where she worked in a shirt factory. It was here that she was first introduced to a racial equality movement called the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), because in 1932, when she was nineteen, she married Raymond Parks who was an active member. Although she did not officially join herself until 1943, she was aware of their movements and grew attached to their ideals.
Montgomery Bus Boycott.
At that time, even something as simple as taking the bus to work had limitations; all dark-skinned passengers were forced to board through a back entrance and ride at the back of the bus. White passengers would ride up front, the segregation allocated only by a sign which the bus driver would move back into the African-Americans’ half when the whites’ seating became full. In simpler terms, if there were white people standing, African-Americans would lose seats and be made to stand instead.
On December 1st, 1955, after a long day at work, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus home. As it happened, white people were standing. Noticing this, the driver pulled over to move the segregating sign back into the second half of the bus, and as a result, he asked four black people who were now in front of the sign to move, allowing the white passengers to sit. Three obliged. Rosa, however, refused. Furious, the bus driver called the police and had Rosa arrested. She was later released on bail, but not before her resistance had inspired a significant number of people; the very same evening, the head of Montgomery’s chapter in the NAACP began forming plans to organise a boycott of the city buses as a peaceful protest to Rosa’s arrest and black discrimination. Leaflets were printed and handed out in the street and pushed through doors of black neighbourhoods. Everything was in place.
Starting the day of Rosa’s trial, December 5th, African-Americans started boycotting buses, catching lifts from friends and colleagues or using black operated taxis. 40,000 opted to walk to work, and for some, that was as far as 20 miles! The effect was substantial. Not only was this an embarrassment to the authorities of Montgomery, but the buses were virtually empty and therefore their companies fell under steep financial strain, crippling with the loss of so many paying commuters. This angered the white residents of the city who even resorted to bombing the organiser’s homes. But the African-American population refused to be moved. They were being peaceful but strong, inspired by the start Rosa gave them. Finally, after 381 days of boycotting buses, the African-Americans received their reward; the segregation of buses was lifted on December 20th, 1956.
Things had not been as smooth for Rosa during this time. She lost her job, and her husband was fired, meaning the two of them had to move to Detroit to look for work. But she has since been commended for her involvement in the racial equality movement, having been awarded the Spingarn Medal (the highest award the NAACP offers) and even the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. Rosa sadly passed away on October 24th, 2005, but her legacy lives on.
We hope our readers are inspired by Rosa’s story to do what is right, even if that means self-sacrifice. Rosa knew she would be punished for not giving up her seat on that bus, but she stood her ground regardless…well, sat her ground, as the case may be.