On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested when she bravely refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger. In protest of the unjust Alabama law that required African Americans to sit in the back of the bus, her civil disobedience inspired the 381-day long Montgomery Bus Boycott, and moved the Supreme Court to ban segregation on public transportation in 1956.
“I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore.” Rosa Parks wrote those words just a short time after her famous refusal, 60 years ago, to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus, a protest that galvanized a yearlong bus boycott and opened a new chapter in the struggle for American civil rights. The sentence appears in previously unseen notes in an archive of Parks’ personal papers that opened [in 2015] and underscores a lesser-known dimension of her life: Far from being a meek seamstress who just happened to defy authorities that December evening, she was a fierce and persistent political activist nearly her whole life…”
“Parks wrote poetically about how life under Jim Crow ‘walks us on a tightrope from birth’—demonizing so-called ‘troublemakers’ and requiring a “major mental acrobatic feat” to survive. She cast the boycott not as an outgrowth of her singular experience but as a broad reaction to injustice; she noted the case of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, who was arrested and manhandled on a Montgomery bus earlier that year, and the savage beating of a black Army veteran by a bus driver who was fined $25 and allowed to keep his job. In another shard of personal writing, she reframed her supposed crime: “Let us look at Jim Crow for the criminal he is and what he had done to one life multiplied millions of times over these United States and the world.”
Her writing underscores an important note of recognition for others who had also refused to give up their seats: Bayard Rustin in 1942, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1952, and in 1955: Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith.
Related listening on All Things Considered: The lesser-known story of the personal repercussions of her activism, as told through her writing.
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