“You Must Never Be Fearful About What You Are Doing When It Is Right.” – Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005)
Remember an emotional Barack Obama unveiling the statue of Rosa Parks at the Capitol in 2013, saying, ‘Because of her, I am standing here today. Rosa Parks decided not to accept injustice and tolerate the intolerable that made America what it is today. She is the face of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America.’
Rosa Consie McCarley was born on February 4th, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents divorced when she was 2. She and her mother moved to live with her grandparents, She supported civil equality. Acts of racial tension in the neighborhood and activities of the infamous K.K.K clan stirred her emotionally. During her youth, she became a part of the civil rights movement. At 19, she married Raymond Parks. He was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Rosa was elected secretary of the Montgomery chapter of NAACP and established herself as a civil rights leader in Alabama.
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The driver asked her to vacate her seat for a white passager which Rosa refused. Her denial set in motion one of the most extraordinary acts in the history of the civil rights movement. But it came with consequences. She was arrested and sent to jail. On the day of her hearing, the NAACP activists asked African-American people to stay off buses. Some took cabs, and others walked miles to get to work. After seeing the overwhelming response to their call, the organizers believed a long boycott might be a reality. This boycott lasted 381 days and ended with the supreme court’s judgment declaring the segregation on buses unconstitutional. The combination of legal action backed by the determination of African-Americans made the Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the most successful mass movements in history.
Rosa Parks had little tolerance for racism. She spent her entire life addressing it and confronting it. She won many awards. In 1979, the NAACP awarded Rosa the ‘Spingarn Medal,’ their highest honor, and later the ‘Martin Luther King Junior Award.’ Her bronze sculpture was installed in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary hall as part of the collection of the Architect of the Capitol. She died in 2005 because of old age.
During her lifetime, Rosa Parks ensured that blacks became more organized and started to challenge the accepted norms. It is through all of her efforts and remarkable works that America is what it is today. Yet, despite all this, the government has consciously tried to undermine Afro-American history. Kids in school are taught about Rosa Parks as an old lady who was too tired that day, so she decided not to give up her seat. Hence, giving her the title of ‘Accidental Activist.’ Throughout her lifetime, Rosa Parks corrected the notion that the media misunderstood her ‘I was tired’ remark. She was tired not because of work but because she was tired of giving up. So, one day she decided not to do so.
To correct the discourse, she wrote her autobiography, ‘My Story’ in 1992. But even today, kids are taught the same thing. In October 2022, a documentary titled ‘The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks’ was released. It aims to put many misconceptions about her to rest. This incident was just one of the many instances in a life full of activism. There is an urgent need to understand Black American history. Rosa Parks’s whole life is full of struggles to bring equality.
In the age of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ the appreciation of black history also matters. The African-Americans are now reclaiming their history. It is their new form of protest. Many activists are conducting workshops and seminars to make people aware of Black history.
Fighting against prejudice is a long and continuous process. Only people’s support and will to change can make things happen. Let us all be a part of this process. Let’s be the change.
Nidhi Raj is a homemaker, storyteller, and mother keen on women’s issues and international relations.