Rosa Parks: the childless woman whose courage helped change the course of American history (1913 – 2005)

By Nina Steele 

In her own words, she “was tired of giving in”, and so, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks made a stand against the bus segregation law that had been in place in Montgomery, Alabama since 1900. Although the law required bus passengers to be segregated by race, it also stipulated that “no passenger would be required to move or give up his seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available”. Gradually however, bus drivers took it upon themselves to change the law by asking black passengers to give up their seats whenever a bus was full and there were no more empty seats in the ‘white only section’. And so, regardless of the fact that technically, Rosa Parks didn’t break the law, she was duly arrested.

Her arrest led to the Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted 381 days, from December 5, 1955 until December 20, 1956. Organisers decided to end the boycott in the aftermath of a ruling by the Supreme Court that ended segregation on buses.

While this was without doubt a major victory for the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks was swiftly blacklisted in terms of employment. Unable to find work, she and her husband moved to Hampton (Virginia) and then Detroit. Detroit will remain her home until her death, aged 92, on October 24, 2005. Her husband, whom she was married to from 1932, died in 1977. Both are buried in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

The sheer courage that she showed that day, in spite of the fact that she has been described as “possessing a quiet demeanor”, shows that we can all make a difference, regardless of our personality trait. That she was naturally quiet and decent was precisely why those within the civil rights movement at the time, chose to make her into the emblem of their fight against bus segregation. She was described as “the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws, as she was seen as a responsible, mature woman with a good reputation”.

Even though America still has a long way to go in terms of race relations, the actions of one woman still reverberate. She will for ever remain a role model for anyone, regardless of colour. That she and her husband never had children, shows once again that we all have a role to play in society, and that having children is but one of those roles.

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