By Beverly Gadson-Birch
As the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday and reflect on one of the greatest civil rights leaders and orators of our time, I am reminded of Rosa Parks who served as the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott Movement that lasted for a year and resulted in the desegregation of the buses.
November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court declared that Alabama state and local laws requiring segregation of buses were illegal. On December 21, 1956, Dr. King and a white minister, Rev. Glen Smiley, shared the front seat on a public bus for the first time. This nation owes Ms. Parks a debt of gratitude for her defining moment in history. Rosa Parks did nothing wrong that day. She was already seated behind the 10 rows of seats that were set aside for whites. However, the white seats were taken so she was asked to moved back to another seat so a white man could sit down. I’se like Rosa. I wouldn’t have relinquished my seat either and to a man, no way Hosea.
About 15 years ago, I was asked to name a few persons that influenced the course of my life and Rosa Parks was among those at the top of my list. I chose Rosa Parks because I had a similar experience on a City of Charleston bus after I returned home from the north. Although a gentle woman, Ms. Parks slew the giant. She took on the establishment by refusing to give up her seat to a white man and won with the help of Dr. King and others.
As we celebrate Dr. King’s holiday, let’s not forget Rosa Parks. I did this poem some years ago and thought I would share it with you. It’s done in the first person as if I were Rosa Parks.
My Name is Rosa Louise McCauley Parks
My story begins on a Montgomery City Bus.
I was returning home from work
When confronted by a jerk.
I was asked to give up my seat, you see
And I said no not this time, no not me.
I don’t know what got into me that day
According to the laws on the books at the time
Blacks had to sit behind the white line.
And, if a white person needed a seat
You gave up yours and rose to your feet.
So, on that historical day, December 1, 1955
It was me and three other blacks
Seated in Row #5 near the back;
Seated in a section by the rear door,
While whites filled up Seats number, 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The driver turned around, looked at me and said,
The four of you, “Get up”
Give that white man your seat.
The others moved, I refused.
And, since whites did not sit next to us
I was arrested and escorted off the bus.
And, since I served as secretary of the NAACP
News of my arrest spread rapidly.
Supporters said they didn’t blame me for sitting down,
And vowed to put an end to segregation
And all forms of discrimination.
We look for a leader
Who was not afraid to take a stand.
The search was on for just the right man;
Someone who would be bold and unwavering,
And we found a preacher named Martin Luther King.
The Blacks stood together;
Some carpooled while others walked
At first, bus officials refused to meet and talk
They did not want to see things changed
So, we marched on in the heat and in the rain.
It didn’t take long to right a wrong
We brought the bus company down to their knees
Dr. King was called, and they said Rev, now please.
Please stop the demonstrations, get back on the bus.
We can sit together now, all of us.
My early life, I was virtually an unknown
A seamstress, a laborer, an American.
And, I, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, a woman
Who had done nothing wrong, decided to fight.
And, it was that decision that sparked a new era in Civil Rights.