Rosa Parks: "Tired of Giving In"
- Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Rosa was raised as a devout Christian. She grew up attending a church where her uncle served as a preacher. She recalls, “Every day before supper and before we went to services on Sundays, my grandmother would read the Bible to me, and my grandfather would pray. We even had devotions before going to pick cotton in the fields. Prayer and the Bible became a part of my everyday thoughts and beliefs. I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength.”
Rosa remembered how, as a young girl walking through a white neighborhood in Montgomery, she was pushed from behind by a white boy. Instead of walking on, pretending nothing had happened – which was the expected behavior – Rosa turned around and pushed the boy back. His mother was shocked. “How dare you touch a white boy!”
Rosa replied, “I don’t want to be pushed by your son or anyone else,” and calmly walked away.
She had tried to work within the system. She remembered her struggles to help African-American citizens get registered to vote. She remembered the years spent working as a youth adviser for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Remembering these things put a determination within Rosa. She had never been one to ignore acts of injustice. What was going on was not fair. Not in the eyes of man, and not in the eyes of God. It was time for action. When the police arrived, Rosa calmly asked, “Why do you push us around”
The officer replied, “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.” When the officers asked her to stand up and get off the bus, Rosa quietly obeyed. They drove her to the police station and fingerprinted her as though she were a criminal. Before they put her in a jail cell, they allowed her one phone call. She called a prominent member of the NAACP, who called a lawyer. The two bailed Rosa out of jail for one hundred dollars and suggested that Rosa appeal her case to challenge the segregationist law that had led to her arrest. Rosa’s husband and her mother had some real concerns about Rosa’s personal safety, but they all agreed that it was time to act. Rosa recalled, “As I sat in that jail cell, behind bars, I felt as if the world had forgotten me. But I felt God’s presence with me in the jail cell.”
The ministers of the city’s African-American congregations lent their support. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., using his church’s mimeograph machine, made seven thousand leaflets encouraging African Americans to boycott the Montgomery city bus system on Monday, December 5. A community meeting that night drew an overflow crowd numbering in the thousands.
What began as a one-day boycott lasted for 381 days. Continuing the boycott was neither comfortable nor convenient. Some people walked miles to work, others rode bikes or shared rides. For more than a year – in the cold, pouring rain and in the blistering heat of summer – the black community worked together, giving their one hundred percent cooperation. They were determined to pay the price to see change. As the months went by, Rosa’s case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – and Rosa won. On December 21, 1956, Rosa sat in the front row of a newly integrated city bus.
Both Rosa and her husband lost their jobs and were considered unemployable as a result of their part in the boycott. They were also harassed with phone calls, letters, verbal threats, and intimidation. The family moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1957, and for the next eight years, they struggled financially, until Rosa was hired as a staff assistant to a U.S. congressman.
In later years, Rosa was hailed as the mother of the civil rights movement and received many awards and honors. Among them was a seventy-seventh birthday celebration in the nation’s capitol in 1990, which was attended by government dignitaries, prominent entertainers, and a host of notable African-American leaders. Here Rosa was praised for her “beautiful qualities [of] dignity and indomitable faith that with God nothing can stop us.” In 1999, President Clinton awarded Rosa the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
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