Written By Pratichi Satpathy (Grade 8)
Imagine, if you will, in 1955, a 42-year-old woman, a little over five feet in height, wearing oval glasses. She is on a bus in which white people are standing, and she is sitting in the coloured segment meant for the blacks. The infuriated driver yells at her, “Stand in the aisle; allow the white people to sit on the seats.” This woman blatantly refused, and the rest is history.
Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. As a child, her rebellious and ferocious voice had always lashed out at injustice. So, her grandmother called her a ‘pistol’. Her grandmother feared that she would be lynched before she became an adult. “I would rather be lynched than to live to be mistreated and not be allowed to say, ‘I don’t like this,’” was what she often said in response.
Growing up in her grandparents’ house, she witnessed various horrors: sleepless nights spent by her grandfather, holding a shotgun and patrolling the house to protect his family, awaiting violent mobs of white folks. The windows and doors of the house were boarded up. The children, sweating and shaking, hardly got a wink of sleep, fearing that their existence could be reduced to ashes in a matter of painful, torturous minutes. They would sometimes have to go to bed fully clothed to be ready for escape if need be.
Rosa faced discrimination in other ‘passive’ ways too. On joining school at Pine Level, she was placed in a segregated establishment with outrageously limited facilities, barely enough to provide the children with a proper education. Moreover, while white children were being bus-driven to school, all the black kids had to walk, sometimes even for miles.
She was 19 when she married a barber and civil rights activist named Raymond Parks. Together, they worked with many social justice organisations. In 1943, they joined the Montgomery branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Rosa, with her fierce, steadfast, and headstrong personality, quickly became the chapter secretary and founded the NAACP Youth Council.
Let’s cut back to where we left off. Rosa was crafted differently; her voice was so powerful that it aroused the spirit of rebellion in the common man. The next morning, the women of the WPC spread across the city, leaving leaflets in churches, barbershops, and schools, arousing the spirit of rebellion in the common man. Residents refused to board the buses; they carpooled, rode in black-owned vehicles, or walked as far as 20 miles instead.
In an effort to control the boycott, the police brutally harassed carpoolers, charging them unnecessary fines. When the protesters were unfazed, the city pulled out an obscure law and arrested eighty-nine leaders of the bus boycott. However, Rosa Parks was not among those who waited to be arrested. She, along with some others, went to the police voluntarily and was arrested for the second time. The Montgomery bus boycott went on for thirteen long months, which led to massive losses for bus companies. Many buses stood idle without passengers to ride them because African-Americans constituted 70% of riders. Finally, in 1956, segregation of buses was declared by the US Supreme Court as ‘unconstitutional’ and abolished.
We have all read about Rosa Parks in school or during Black History Month, and this is where the story stops, right? Wrong. In the words of Rosa Parks herself, “A freedom fighter never retires,” and she never did. Due to the Parks’ pivotal role in the bus boycott, Rosa and Raymond received various death threats and were unable to find stable jobs. This forced them to move to Detroit.
Rosa Parks was surprised to see the situation in Detroit. She wasted no time getting to work, marching and protesting against housing discrimination, police brutality, school segregation, and employment discrimination. Through the 1960s and 1970s, she worked with various emerging Black Power organisations and idolised Malcolm X as her personal hero.
When Rosa Parks passed away on October 24, 2005, after decades of social work, she became the first woman and second African-American to lie in honour in the U.S. Capitol.
Rosa Parks once said, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” I see her as a woman of dynamic character, and I admire her steadfastness, courage, and humility. Rosa Parks’ strong sense of justice and unwavering moral compass give me the courage to fight my battles fearlessly and to do what is right and morally correct, even when the whole world is against me. To conclude, I once again quote Rosa Parks: “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”
Featured Image Courtesy – Britannica