Rosa Parks, like most people, didn't set out to change the world, but instead just stopped to ask the question of why something had to be the way it was. Why did black people have to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats for white people? Is she not a human the same as any other, with the same rights and freedoms? But simply asking this question, and refusing to comply until it was answered, set off a spark that ignited the nation.
Rosa was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama as the humble, sickly child to James and Leona McCauley, a carpenter and teacher. She was home-schooled until age 11 after which she went on to learn at the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery and later the Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes, which she had to drop out of to care for her sick grandmother and mother who grew ill later on.
During her childhood and up until 1964, Rosa lived under "Jim Crow Laws". These laws created racial segregation (blacks were considered 'equal but separate' to whites) and Rosa saw the effects of this every day when she attended school, as she watched the 'whites only' school buses pass her by while walking to school. "I'd see the bus pass every day...But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world."
The seed planted in Rosa's mind from this insight grew as she did leading her to join the NAACP in December of 1943 and become part of the Civil Rights Movement. She worked as the secretary of the Montgomery chapter, later saying, "I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no." It took her 12 years from then to begin her civil disobedience, but no one considered her timid after that.
Rosa Parks remains today most famous for her defiant act on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama; refusing to give up her seat. While today one person choosing to give up a seat or not is utterly unimportant, at the time Rosa's act symbolized the voice of the entire black community shouting that they would no longer tolerate being second class citizens in their own country even though it was the law. Rosa when the two white policemen came that she ",,,asked one of them, 'Why do you push us around?' He answered, 'I don't know, but the law is the law and you're under arrest.'" The law may not have been on her side, but justice and human equality were and, thanks to her action, eventually they won out.
After having lived a full and accomplished life, Rosa Parks died at age 92 on October 24, 2005. She spent her last years as a mentor to young people and an advocate for the further increased education of the Civil Rights Movement.
An inspiration for all, Rosa Parks demonstrated that just one person can make a difference and that it doesn't have to be done through violence. And thanks to her contributions, segregation was eventually demolished in America and all citizens are equal under the law.
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