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Rosa Parks Research Papers

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An essay on Rosa Paks discusses one of the most famous moments in the history of the American civil rights movement, the refusal by Rosa Parks to “move to the back of the bus” on December 1, 1955. Although, as Adams states, her moment of protest was not a planned event , it certainly proved to be a momentous one.  Four days later, on December 5, the Montgomery bus boycott began.  It was, as Reed notes, to last 381 days, and it ended on December 21, 1956 when the United States Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, a small, frail woman, became an icon of the civil rights movement. The nature of Rosa Parks protest, the response of the authorities of Montgomery, the tactics adopted by the civil rights leaders in Montgomery, and the role eventually played by Federal authority, were all aspects of this particular situation that were to be repeated again and again in the struggle for equality of race.  Rosa Parks’ action, and the complex combination of events that followed, in some measure, foreshadowed a great deal of the  history of the civil rights movement over the next decade.

While the story of Rosa Parks, and her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus one day in 1955, is generally noted to be the start of the civil rights movement in the United States, in many ways Parks role has been that of one relegated to little more than a historical footnote. This is an inaccurate and potentially harmful depiction of both the woman and her actions, according to Herbert Kohl, author of She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Kohl’s book argues that the perceptions of Parks as a simply a tired, bedraggled woman who refused to give up her seat with no premeditation is not only incorrect, but it is also a disservice to Parks personally and the entire Montgomery Boycott. This, in Kohl’s opinion, is because it creates the perception that Parks’ action was more accidental than the beginning of a movement that had already laid the groundwork, which Kohl illustrates in the book. This paper will offer a brief overview of the major ideas of the book, as well as attempting to understand the way that this understanding impacts my understanding of race and myself, both personally and professionally.

'Two points might be made here.

  1.  In the first place Rosa Parks had the kind of character and personality that was perfect for attracting national sympathy.  Robert Graetz, a white preacher and an eyewitness to these events, has described Ms. Parks as “quiet and reserved (58)”.  Virtually every account mentions that she was frail of appearance but possessed a visible personal force. 
  2. Secondly, and this is related to the first point, the civil rights movement achieved its greatest successes in the era in which it was presenting a non-violent face to the world.  The people who came to direct the Montgomery boycott, in particular Dr. Martin Luther King, were able to present a demeanor, and a tactic, that was non-threatening.  The contrast between the way that they conducted themselves and the way in which those opposed to them conducted themselves (one of the boycotts’ leaders’ homes was bombed) was something starkly obvious to all observers.  Farmer has said, “There was none of the strident rhetoric that had characterized the movement for so long.  It was now a seductive gentleness. . .”.

But if Ms. Scott herself, the leadership of Dr. King, and the non-violent tactics that were chosen as tools, were ideal resources with which to meet the needs of the situation, so was the spirit of the people themselves.  Hampton and Fayer quote Coretta King who, speaking of the spirit of the mass meetings, of the inspirational songs that were sung, and of the tone of optimism and hope that radiated over it all said, “. . .we had the feeling that something could be done about the situation, that we could change it . .”.  No account of this event, the Montgomery boycott, that I know of attempts to say that anyone who had anything to do with it was apathetic.  There appears to have been a feeling that the time to do something about racial inequality had finally come. And the response of the black community to this idea, as expressed in the solidarity of the boycott and the tone of the mass meetings, was such as to catch the imagination of outside observers.  If nothing else, the Montgomery bus boycott was an enormous public relations success for the civil rights movement.

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