Tired of Giving In

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


 

"Tired of Giving in"

Rosa Parks, the "mother of the civil rights movement"

 

That evening in December of 1955 wasn't the first time Rosa had encountered James Blake.  In fact, had she recognized him earlier, she might have waited for the next bus.  As she eyed Blake, she could still feel the chill of that bleak November day, twelve years earlier, when she had first boarded his bus.  Rosa had paid her fare and headed toward the designated "colored" section in the back of the bus.  Apparently Blake felt that wasn't humiliating enough.  He ordered her to disembark at the front door and reenter through the rear one.  Although this humiliating addition wasn't actually a city ordinance, Blake and a handful of likeminded drivers had been insisting on enforcing it.

That year, 1943, young Rosa had recently joined the NAACP and was becoming painfully aware of the racial injustice in her Montgomery, Alabama community.  She refused to disembark, and the enraged Blake grabbed her coat sleeve and threatened to drag her off.  Rosa stepped off and stood at the bus stop, fuming but proud of her resistance.  While she watched the bus pull away – along with her already deposited bus fare – an emotional seed was planted.  That seed would one day sprout and forever alter the life of the mild-mannered but steel-nerved lady often called the "mother of the civil rights movement."

As the 42-year-old Rosa snapped back into her existing situation, she paid her fare.  This time she wasn't told to exit and re-board, and quietly took her seat behind the "race barrier" sign.  The sign was often moved back a row when additional white passengers boarded.  James Blake, she soon learned, despite not enforcing his previous re-boarding directive, hadn't shifted his viewpoint since their first encounter.  When the bus reached its third stop, in front of the Empire Theater, several white passengers boarded and stood in the front of the bus, preferring to stand rather than sit in the back section.Noticing this, Blake moved the sign back and ordered four black patrons to give up their seats to them.  Three of the four would.  The fourth, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, as history is well aware – would not

The city ordinance didn't specifically give Blake the authority to make previously seated black passengers leave their seats.  But as before, Blake and several other drivers had simply adopted the custom.  "Y'all better make it light on yourselves," Blake warned, "and let me have those seats."  After a nervous silence, the others relented and Rosa briefly stood, but merely to take her previous seatmate's window spot.  As her adversary eyed Rosa's lack of response, he blurted out, "Why don't you stand up?" "I don't think I should have to stand up," Rosa matter-of-factly responded. 

Blake once more asked Rosa to relinquish her seat and she again refused.  "Well, if you don't stand up," he threatened, "I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested. "With characteristic composure, Rose flatly responded, "You may do that."  She later said she felt a determination cover her body "like a quilt on a winter night."  As the police arrived and escorted her off the bus, she asked one of the officers, "Why do you push us around?"  "I don't know," he admitted, adding "but the law's the law and you're under arrest." Some have since conjectured that Rosa was simply too tired after a long day working at the Montgomery Fair department store, to leave her seat.  "That isn't true," she later explained, "the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

She wasn't, of course, the only one who had grown tired of giving in.  In fact, she wasn't the first to contest Montgomery's rigid race-splitting bus restrictions.  Nine months before Rosa's incident, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin boarded a bus with her friends to head downtown for a little shopping.  As was customary, the driver told her and her friends to give up their seats to newly boarded white passengers.  Her three friends complied, but Claudette remained seated.She later said she would gladly have given up her seat for an elderly person, but not for a young white lady who was just as healthy as she was.  "It felt as though Harriet Tubman's hands were pushing me down on one shoulder," she later explained, "and Sojourner Truth's hands were pushing me down on the other."

Shortly afterwards, a police squad car arrived at an intersection farther along the bus's route and two policemen boarded and demanded she comply with the driver's demands.  They knocked the schoolbooks out of her lap and one of them grabbed her by the arm to pull her off the bus.  She was promptly arrested and spent several hours in a squalid jail cell before her mother and pastor bailed her out.  Although her story made a few local papers, Rosa's case would be the one to echo around the world.  The image of the arrest of a sedate middle-aged working lady simply touched a deeper nerve in society's moral consciousness than that of a defiant teenager. 

When word got out about Rosa's arrest, the black community snapped into action.  That evening, they arranged to have her released on bail and decided her case was the one they had been waiting for.  She was well respected in the city and was serving as secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, headed by E. D. Nixon.  He had been hoping for years to find a courageous and respected black community member to become a plaintiff in a case to test the city's severe segregation laws.  "My God," he enthused to his friends, "look what segregation has put in my hands!"

During the next few days Nixon and the other black leaders in Montgomery fashioned a plan to boycott the city's buses.  That was not the first bus boycott for civil rights.  But, like Rosa's protest, it would become the most famous.  On Sunday night, the group organized the Montgomery Improvement Association to carry off the event, and elected the newly arrived charismatic Baptist minister Martin Luther King to head it.  Thousands of pages have documented the success of the boycott, but the earliest assessment may have been made by Martin's wife, Coretta.  At 5:30, Monday morning, she excitedly summoned Martin to the window to see the first bus of the day pull up to the stop outside their house."Darling," she called out, "it's empty!"

Like the path of the civil rights movement itself, that empty bus was only at the beginning of a very long and hazardous ride through history.  Rosa, like King, Nixon, and all the others, was aware that focusing the world's spotlight on their city's racial injustice would bring about serious repercussions.  And, regrettably, their dire predictions were correct.  Rosa's life, like that of the others, was soon darkened by written death threats and hate-spewing phone calls.  "I did not get on the bus to get arrested," she later noted, "I got on the bus to go home."  Despite this, from somewhere deep inside, she mustered the emotional forces needed to persevere. 

Those forces helped pave the way for countless others to push the leading edge of history toward fairness and equality.  In 1957, the Little Rock Nine stood at the admission desk of the previously segregated Little Rock Central High School.  In 1962, James Meredith stood at the door of the University of Mississippi.  In 1963 Doctor Martin Luther King stood proudly in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  And in 2009 Barack Obama stood to take the oath of the presidency of the United States.  As they stood, they all knew exactly who to thank - a sedate seamstress who one Thursday evening in December of 1955, refused to stand.


Submitted: November 18, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Serge Wlodarski

I grew up in Alabama in the 60s. The state and our country have come a long way since then, still a long way to go.

Wed, November 18th, 2020 6:20pm

Author
Reply

How true. We still have “miles to go before we rest.” Glad you enjoyed the story.

Wed, November 18th, 2020 12:38pm

HarveyY

Very thoughtful presentation

Wed, November 18th, 2020 8:04pm

Author
Reply

Glad you enjoyed it. She was a brave lady!

Wed, November 18th, 2020 12:36pm

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