This Black History Month, I am sharing 28 stories of Black women who shaped me and showed me the way towards liberation. Because Black women are often not cited for their ideas, I thought this would be one way to give flowers to those who influenced me.
On Day 20, I would like to honor the legacy of Rosa Parks, who throughout her life was a powerful force for civil rights for Black people.
Born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, Rosa Parks became involved in civil rights early, working to free the Scottsboro Nine, a group of Black teens falsely accused of rape. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/who-were-scottsboro-nine-180977193/) She became the secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP in 1943.
In December 1955, after a long day, Rosa Parks got on the bus and sat in the colored section. When a white man was without a seat in the white section, the bus driver, J. Fred Blake, demanded that the Black people in the first two rows of the colored section move to the back of the bus. Rosa Parks refused. She was arrested for her defiance, and the NAACP used her case as a catalyst to argue against segregation on public transportation in the US Supreme Court, ultimately getting the segregation law declared unconstitutional.
Many of us were taught that Mrs. Parks was tired so she decided not to move. While she was undoubtedly tired from work and living in the Jim Crow south, to reduce her participation in the movement to individual fatigue is misleading. In fact, Montgomery Black civil rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, had been planning for something like this for three years. Rosa Parks was not the first person to refuse to move to the back of the bus. The NAACP knew they needed the “right” defendant for their case - someone above reproach. When Rosa Parks was arrested, community leaders knew they had their person. Once Rosa Parks was arrested, the Black community quickly sprung to action. They distributed flyers among the Black community telling them to stay off the buses. They organized a carpool system with 40 pick up points around Montgomery. The Black residents boycotted the Montgomery bus system for a year. Black riders were 75% of the bus system customers, so the protest had a significant financial impact. To this day, the Montgomery Bus Boycotts remains one of the most successful boycotts for social change. (https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/montgomery-bus-boycott)
Rosa Parks and her husband were forced to move to Detroit after the boycott due harassment from white citizens. She continued to be active in social justice movements focused on housing discrimination, prisoner support, the Black Power movement, and other causes. (https://www.loc.gov/collections/rosa-parks-papers/articles-and-essays/beyond-the-bus/)
Picture credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Image Description: Black and white picture of Rosa Parks. She is wearing glasses and has her hair pulled back.