This day in 1955: Rosa Parks took her seat on the bus

Rosa Parks in Halifax in August 1998 at the annual Africville Reunion in Seaview Park | Paul Adams (Click to enlarge)

Rosa Parks in Halifax in August 1998 at the annual Africville Reunion in Seaview Park | Paul Adams (Click to enlarge)

1955 (1 December): The status of non-persons for African Americans was the target of the modern US civil rights movement. With untold sacrifice it led to more historic successes. The movement was strengthened by the courageous action of one person. Rosa Parks, 42, a black seamstress living in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to sit in the back of a public bus as required by segregationist laws then in effect. “Whites Only” or “Coloreds Only” were the signs marking this separation at the entrance to restaurants, hotels, water fountains, private buildings, schools, etc. The cruel and absurd segregationist law in the long trail of slavery in the American South stated that if a Black person was sitting on a bus and a white person wanted that seat, the former would have to stand and allow the latter to sit.

Contrary to mainstream thought, Mrs. Parks’ action was not a spontaneous event. It was part of an organized and well thought-out plan originated by Black women domestic workers in concert with the local chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), of which she was a member. Her husband was also a long-term activist. Other woman had earlier defied the law and refused to go to the back of the bus. “I was tired of giving in,” she said later. She was arrested, charged with violation of segregation laws, fined US$10 plus a court cost of $4, but her protest was taken up by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He led a nonviolent boycott of the bus system that focused public attention on the issue. The boycott ended in victory. In 1956 the US Supreme Court declared local segregation laws unconstitutional. Her birthday, February 4, and the day she was arrested, December 1, have both become Rosa Parks Day, commemorated in both California and Ohio. In August 1998, Ms. Parks spoke at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, and attended the annual Africville Reunion in Seaview Park.

Fifty-nine years later, protests in Ferguson, Missouri have been ongoing since the August 9 killing of unarmed African American youth Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Nationwide outrage has been expressed across the U.S. against the November 24 decision of the Grand Jury in St. Louis, Missouri not to indict Wilson, and against other shootings. An agenda is being implemented to replace local police, said to be the problem, with state and federal police and install all the infrastructure for a police state. This also involves getting rid of any vestiges of due process. The old civil rights regime is gone even though it was never made available for half the population in the first place.

Source: People’s Odyssey, Black History Supplement, Shunpiking Magazine, Halifax, Nova Scotia

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