Jan Swartzendruber: Parks part of a movement
03/08/2013 7:05 AM
03/08/2013 7:05 AM
The article about the new sculpture of Rosa Parks in the U.S. Capitol reported that the designers portrayed her sitting on a rock “to represent the rock of the civil rights movement that supported her” (Feb. 28 Eagle).
Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat on Dec. 1, 1955, made her a symbol of a people’s campaign that defeated bus segregation in Montgomery, Ala. Parks was a calm, quiet person, but she was not an accidental or novice organizer. She had learned from an older generation of labor and civil rights organizers at Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School.
For years, Montgomery’s African-American leaders had appealed to city officials for reasonable revisions to the bus-segregation practices. In May 1954, Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council had hinted of a bus boycott in a letter to Montgomery’s mayor. The night of Parks’ arrest, her peers, knowing her reputation in the city, convinced her to cooperate with a bus boycott for the coming Monday, the day of her trial. When Parks agreed, the council mimeographed thousands of fliers to circulate over the weekend.
On Monday, 90 percent of the city’s African-Americans bus riders found other ways to work, but the city didn’t listen. The Montgomery Improvement Association, with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as president, organized car pools that, for nearly 13 months, allowed the no-bus option to prevail. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional.
Parks was part of a movement, but she also was an individual like you and me with the same courage any one of us could show if we decided we should not tolerate a wrong. She made a quiet, personal decision, accepted the consequences, and worked for change with friends and allies – as we can all do right now when justice is at stake.