Sunday, December 1, 2013

DECEMBER 1 = Rosa Parks Says "No."

On today's date - December 1, in 1955.  Rosa Parks said "No." when she was directed by Bus Driver James F. Blake to give up her seat in the "colored section" of a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger when the "white section" of the bus was filled.  Perhaps my readers can feel some of the utter absurdity of such things as a"colored" and a "white section" of the bus when reading it as I feel in writing it. But there it is -- this idiotic arrangement was not only acceptable here in at least one section of America (and not so long ago, either), but it actually held the force of law.  Well it was decided by some leaders of the civil rights movement in America that the time had come to challenge such nonsense right up front.  And today was the date that they did it, and Rosa Parks was the person that they chose to make the statement.  That's her up there being "booked" at the police station for her "crime".      

The Past Becomes the Present for Rosa

Ms. Parks had had a "run-in" with the Montgomery bus system before.. in fact with this very same bus driver. Once on a rainy day in 1947, she boarded a Montgomery bus, paid her fare and took her seat. But bus driver James F. Blake told her to get off the bus and follow the "city ordinance" (yet another idiot law!!) by re-entering from the back door.  So she exited the bus, but before she
could get to the back door, Blake drove away, leaving her to walk home in the rain. Needless to say, there would be no bandying about with such compliance the next time that Rosa met up with this bone-head. The black citizens of Montgomery had complained that the segregation of  buses was unfair, but it was definitely was a part of city ordinances passed by voters in 1900.  So NAACP officials decided that Rosa Parks would be the best person for seeing through the long court challenges to the ordinances which would follow her arrest.

The Moment Comes...

The ordinance gave the bus drivers the authority to re-arrange the seating on buses to achieve segregation, and this meant that if the "white section" was filled, he could require black passengers to stand and/or move from the "colored section" in order to seat any white passengers.  So it was that day in December when, after a long day at work, Ms. Parks (who by now was the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP) boarded a bus and sat in the "colored section" that bus driver Blake directed her to move in order to accommodate some white passengers that she refused.  Rosa did indeed move, but only towards the window seat. "Why don't you stand up?" Rosa replied "I don't think I should have to stand up."  Parks later recalled that "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said 'No I'm not.' And he said 'Well if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said 'You may do that.'" Years later in her autobiography, "My Story" Ms. Parks would write:

"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Rosa was indeed arrested, and jailed.  But she was bailed out the next evening.  Her case was tied up in the courts, but Parks' action lead to the boycott of the Montgomery Bus System by the black citizens of Montgomery which lasted for 381 days.  This economic action caused such a mess in the finances of the Transit Company that they repealed the law requiring segregation of city buses. Rosa parks became nationally recognized as one of the leading pioneers of the civil rights movement in America.


"Rosa Parks - My Story" by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins, Puffin Books, New York, 1992

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