Rosa McCauley Parks was 42 that afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama. The soft-spoken woman took the bus every day to her job as a seamstress. She fumed with the injustice and indignity of the bus company and its drivers. Once before, bus driver James Blake had tested her spirit: he let her enter the front door to pay, but then insisted she follow the custom in which blacks then got off and re-entered the back door to claim a seat. This time, when she had paid and moved outside to the rear door, he pulled away before she could re-enter. It was an insult that black people faced all the time in Montgomery.
On the next occasion, she was ready for Mr. Blake. He ordered her to leave her seat so a white person could sit, but Parks calmly said no. He insisted, in louder and louder terms. “No,” came her reply, just as firmly. It wasn’t simply that she was tired. Yes, she was weary from working, but she was more tired of the treatment she and her fellow blacks had to put up with.
What many people don’t know is that Rosa Parks was sophisticated about her rights. For twelve years she had been secretary of the local NAACP, watching and learning as the group took on ever more ambitious goals. In addition, shortly before her famous act of resistance, she had participated in a training sessions at the Highlander School in Tennessee, where black and whites met to encourage each other and learn how to organize opposition to injustice. She was much more than a symbol of resistance and protest; but she was an awfully dignified symbol.
Throughout the 11-month bus boycott that Parks’ resistance prompted, she and her husband endured hate calls, death threats, and eventually, the loss of both of their jobs before segregation in public transportation was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1956. The Parks moved to Detroit, where Rosa took care of her ailing mother and husband.
Rosa Parks has continued to be active in civil rights, resisting many people’s attempts to see her only as a symbol and not as a woman with definite views and convictions. In addition to winning a seat on the board of the Detroit NAACP, she founded the Institute for Self Development, to encourage young people to work for change and to grow as people.
Jakarta, 8 March 2014
Source: Shriberg, Lloyd, Shriberg & Williamson, PRACTICING LEADERSHIP – PRINCIPLES AND APPLICTIONS, pages 176-177.