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, […] the only tired I was, was tired of giving in
In the 1950s, Black Americans continued to be treated as second-class citizens. The slavery had been abolished almost a century earlier (1862), and yet the society remained rigidly separated. According to the so-called Jim Crow laws, binding mainly in the southern states, Afro-Americans had limited access to schooling or seeking accommodation and employment. Interracial marriages were banned by law. Some restaurants, taxi companies, swimming pools or public toilets provided access exclusively to the white population.
The struggle against racial segregation began in the 1940s. It gained momentum in the 1960s, despite brutal repressions on the part of the police toward stop-racism demonstrations, and murders committed by Ku-Klux-Klan on civil rights activists.
The bill on civil rights had been initiated by President John F. Kennedy; it was signed by his successor, President Lyndon Johnson. The law, introduced in July 1964, banned racial discrimination at a workplace and in employment, in election procedures as well as in public places such as public transport or swimming pools.
“One evening in early December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, I was sitting at the front of a bus, the coloured section. The Whites sat in the section intended for the Whites. More and more of them were boarding the bus, and in the end they occupied all the seats. In such cases we, the Blacks, had to give up our seats. But I did not budge. The white driver said: “We need the seats at the front.” I did not get up. I was sick of obeying the Whites’ orders.”
Rosa Parks was on her way home from work. She was a seamstress at a department store. The driver called the police. She was apprehended for violating the ordinance pertaining to the use of public transport. Several days later the court found her guilty of infringing the regulations pertaining to racial segregation and fined her 10 dollars and 4 dollars in court costs. Parks appealed her conviction. Both her and her husband lost their jobs and were sent letters with threats.
On the day of the trial, the Afro-American population of Montgomery launched a boycott of public buses. The success of their action prompted its organisers to found the Montgomery Improvement Association. It was headed by Martin Luther King, a young minister.
The boycott lasted 381 days, despite acts of violence on the part of the white residents of the town. The peace protest of Afro-Americans spread all over the country.
The boycott ended a day after a written sentence of the United States Supreme Court arrived in Montgomery. It was dated 13 November 1956 and stated that the regulations pertaining to racial segregation on public buses are unconstitutional. The violence of the white population escalated. The buses as well as the house of Rev. King became the target of shootings; bombs were planted at churches and ministers’ houses. Parks and her husband left Montgomery in search of employment.
Rosa Parks grew into a symbol, “the mother of civil rights movement.”
“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, […] the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”