December Woman of the Month: Rosa Parks

Written by Sophie Holbourne

Rosa Parks, born on 4 February 1913 in Alabama, was best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and her activism in the civil rights movement. Rosa’s mother was a teacher and the family saw the importance of education. Unfortunately, Rosa had to leave school at the young age of 16 in order to care for her grandmother and, shortly afterwards, her mother.

She married her husband Raymond Parks in 1932. He was very supportive of Rosa and she was able to complete her education by 1933. This was remarkable because at the time less than 7% of African Americans had a high school diploma. Rosa and her husband had always worked very hard, holding down many jobs at a time. She worked in many areas, ranging from a hospital aide to a domestic worker to a seamstress.

During this period of time, Rosa was living in a society governed by the Jim Crow laws. These laws enforced racial segregation in the southern united states and were enforced until 1965! In particular, these laws stipulated that public transport such as buses were to be segregated. This meant that there were designated seats for white and black people. In addition to this, if all of the seats designated for white people were full, the black citizens had to give up their seats, by law!

Not many people are aware that Rosa Parks had altercations with James Blake, the bus driver, before. There was a further rule that black citizens had to get on the bus at the back door. In 1943, she refused to get on the bus from the back and insisted on boarding from the front. He refused to allow this, so instead of conforming she just didn’t get on. She waited for the next one. This was the beginning of a bigger story to come…

On 1 December 1955, after a long day at work, Rosa boarded James Blake’s bus. Since the altercation in 1943, she had vowed to never use his bus again. However, she was so tired she didn’t notice who was driving and just wanted to go home. During the journey, the bus became busier and busier until one white citizen did not have access to a seat. Blake told the four black passengers to give up their seat. Three complied, one didn’t. This was Rosa. She was subsequently arrested, and this sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted 13 months.

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically … No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

— Rosa Parks

On 5 December 1955, she was found guilty of violating the segregation laws and was fined $14. Rosa’s actions led to major changes in the segregation laws, the first of which was on the 13 November 1956. On this day, the supreme court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional and with this, the boycott ended.

Rosa’s activism didn’t end there; she was at the heart of some major changes in racial laws. She was named “the mother of the freedom movement” and she co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. Rosa’s achievements had huge impacts on lives today and will forever go down in history.

Rosa is considered to be one of the most inspirational women in history due to her ability to show courage in the face of opposition. She was a remarkable woman and taught us valuable lessons that society will carry with them forever. She wrote that she “would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people” and she has achieved that by a mile!

I chose Rosa Parks as this month's woman of the month in celebration of Rosa Parks Day on December 1. In 2018, the Senate in Alabama unanimously voted to mark 1 December as Rosa Parks Day, in a move which they hope will pave the way for more change in the future.

Rosa Parks was at the centre of a recent Doctor Who episode, entitled "Rosa". We love that the creators behind the first female Doctor in the show's 55 year history chose to showcase Rosa's story through the eyes of the Doctor's 21st century companions, simultaneously showing us how much things have changed but also how far there is to go. Whether you're already a fan of the show or not, it's a great episode and very thought-provoking. Give it a watch! You can find it here.

Our Woman of the Month posts are designed to be an introduction to some awesome women. You can find out more about them and their stories using the links in the blog. Got an idea for our January Woman of the Month? Let us know on Facebook or Instagram! We'd love to explore their unique and inspiring stories.

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