by Sally Dugman
Rosa Parks learned to stand her ground for which she was hauled off to jail. This incident wasn’t the first time, nor the last time, that an Afro-American would be incarcerated for an act of civil disobedience.
Her arrest was due to this event: A bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama ordered her to give up her seat in the “colored” section of the bus to a white skinned passenger. In relation, she refused after which she was both jailed and fined for her defiance of the law. It was in 1955 and, thus, started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After all, why should there be public transportation and it not be available in an equitable way to all people?
Rosa throughout her life was no stranger to racial discrimination and resistance to it. As a child, she had to walk to school while white children got to ride on a school bus. Her grandfather, an emancipated slave, stood outside of their home with a shotgun when the Ku Klux Klan tramped down the street near their home. Indeed, many experiences that she had endured during her life led her to fight for equal rights and become a substantial activist.
A friend of Martin Luther King and E. D. Nixon, she stated, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired … the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” She also shared, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free … so other people would be also free.” Put another way, she wasn’t only thinking of her own situation, but wanted others to have comparable fair conditions.
That in mind, she also said, “As I look back on those days, it’s just like a dream, and the only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest and to let it be known, wherever we go, that all of us should be free and equal and have all opportunities that others should have.” So it is unfortunate that our collective fight for equal rights is still ongoing at present since racism still deeply infects the US with hatred and acts of violence. In short, racism should have disappeared years ago.
Despite her stance, it was hard and took many years to dismantle segregation laws, called “Jim Crow Laws,” that existed in the southern US states. Moreover these discriminatory laws mandated that Blacks and brown people must use separate bathrooms and water fountains than do whites. In addition, they weren’t allowed access to many restaurants, motels, gas stations and other places of congregation in the South. Accordingly it could be perilous to live in or travel to certain locations if one showed any indication that he weren’t white skinned.
In any event, her case languished in court. Then finally a decision was made in November, 1956 that bus segregation was illegal due to the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution containing an Equal Protection Clause. (Unfortunately Rosa had died prior to to this landmark ruling.)
Just as happens now, it took place back in Rosa’s time in reaction to the protests for civil rights: Black Churches were bombed. The King and Nixon homes were bombed to rubble and many people got arrested. Back then, they were even imprisoned for simply boycotting public buses as part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for 381 days.
In addition, the buses became largely empty on account of the boycott and the bus service was floundering financially. In relation, lots of Blacks and browns carpooled to work or took taxis run by “colored” drivers (until the insurance company cancelled taxi insurance). Then even more people walked to work to join the many who already trudged up to twenty miles a day to get to and from their jobs.
As an aside, I am regarded as white, but I can guarantee that I am not white. White is the color of some bedsheets, books and school paper.
Surely I’d look mighty peculiar if I were truly white like those items. Moreover I would have been proud as a child while living in Florida in the early 1960’s to use a colored only water fountain or bathroom. So what if I would had gotten arrested by police for my act? After all, family friends, who were lawyers in New York, would have represented me in court. Yet, this happening was not to be.
That’s because no “colored” bathrooms or water fountains were near where I lived in Florida. Likewise there were absolutely no dark skinned children in my school. Besides, there were only lots and lots of so-called whites as far as the eye could see where I lived down south.
So on Rosa Parks Day, February 4th (her birthday date), let us commemorate the courageous action to defy racism that she undertook. It is only fitting that we celebrate her deed since public transportation became a United States civil right on account.
As Dr. M. L. King, commented, “urban transit systems in most American cities have become a genuine civil rights issue because the layout of rapid-transit systems determines the accessibility of jobs.” It can also determine whether your home, the grocery store, restaurants and more are easily reachable.
Sally Dugman lives in Massachusetts, USA.