Thursday, 16 July 2009

Icon #18 Rosa Parks


I get a bus to work and one back home again every day.  I can't imagine getting on one and sitting down only to be told shortly afterwards to move, not because there's a woman with a buggy or an old fella that needs a seat but because of the colour of my skin.  To be honest a bus isn't the most pleasant place to be at the best of times but having a driver who's added responsibility is to ensure the segregation of his passengers would make it a nightmare.  And yet in 1940's and '50 America that is exactly what happened.  All the time.

In December 1955 though Rosa Parks didn't get out of her seat.  She refused to move, after the 'coloured section' was moved further back when more white people boarded the bus.  She had a steady job and two kids.  She was 42 years old on her way home from a day at work and she'd had enough.

America needed the likes of Rosa Parks to inspire direct action.  Because of what she did the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) was formed and their elected leader was Martin Luther King.

Four days after she was arrested for not giving up her seat she was put on trial.  On the same day the MIA called for all coloured residents to boycott the buses of Montgomery and for the next 381 days that's exactly what they did rain or shine.

Rosa Parks inspired people to not give in.  Her actions led directly to segregation on buses coming to an end. The bus company simply saw it's profits fall too much and similar boycotts took place across the country.

What she did that night in 1955 was a tipping point.  It was a moment in time when a race of people said that enough was enough.  To be honest you can't get much more iconic than that.  In a world where celebrity rules and people gain popularity and notoriety for the most ridiculous of reasons you kind of hope that there are still Rosa Parks out there, decent, honest people that have the ability to inspire millions.  Without Rosa there may have never been Obama.

America has, it would seem, a leader that it can be proud of.  When in the UK were we last able to say that?  I'm not sure we have in my life time.  Arguably though what America should be the most proud of is the message that the last election has given the rest of the world:  In the 1950's America started to listen to Rosa Parks and those like her and it hasn't stopped listening.  Whatever your opinion of the States I think it's hard to argue that Obama's victory doesn't have historical significance.

Rosa continued to work in the Civil Rights movement and her story became an international one.  But she's iconic for what she did on that bus.  She said 'no' to a white bus driver who was just doing 'his job'.  She said 'no' to a morally corrupt law and she opened the door for a better America.

I'll be thinking of her when I sit down on the 17A tomorrow morning.

'The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.'

Tonight's post is dedicated to @RickHarwood, @twosoups and JMcG.