On this day in history, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus. However, she did far more than what most people know her for.
The narrative of Rosa Parks in many history books does no justice to a woman who is one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century. After her death in 2005, she became the first woman, first civilian and second African-American to lay in honor at the United States Capitol.
During Parks’ memorial service, her legacy was minimized to a single moment on a Montgomery bus in 1955. That moment ignited the Civil Rights Movement, but it also shamefully immortalized her in history as a meek, old, tired woman who just sat down on a bus. The New York Times called her “the accidental matriarch of the civil rights movement.” But this is wrong. This was not an accident, it was yet another accomplishment for a woman with more than six decades of activism under her belt, beginning with the Scottsboro Boys in 1931. Here are more facts about her that most people do not know.
1. Rosa’s grandfather was a follower of Marcus Garvey and his Pan-African movement. One of her first political memories was sitting on the porch with her grandfather, who had his shotgun in hand as he protected their home from the Ku Klux Klan. She would sit with her grandfather because “[she] wanted to see him [shoot] a Ku Kluxer,” Park said.
2. Even in her adolescence, Rosa was a strong believer in self-defense. Once during childhood, a white bully was teasing her and her brother Sylvester, so she picked up a brick and threatened to hit him. Another incident occurred when Parks was walking on a sidewalk and a white boy pushed her, so she pushed him back — right in front of the boy’s mother. The boy’s mother told Rosa that she could have her arrested for that and Rosa responded, “He pushed me and I didn’t want to be pushed.”
3. Twelve years prior to her act of civil disobedience in 1955, Parks had a run-in with the same bus driver, James F. Blake, who had her thrown in jail for not giving up her seat. In 1943, Parks attempted to board a bus driven by Blake. He told her to pay up front, then get off and board in the back so she wouldn’t pass by any white passengers. As she went to re-board the bus at the rear, Blake sped off and left her.
4. For years, civil rights leader E.D. Nixon planned to take legal action against the Montgomery bus system. Two other women had been arrested on buses in Montgomery before Parks and were considered by Nixon as potential clients for challenging the law. However, both were rejected because they would not gain white support. When he heard that Rosa Parks had been arrested, Nixon was excited because he knew she was the perfect face for the boycott. She was light-skinned, respectable, educated and sure to evoke sympathy from white people.
5. Because the history books describe Rosa Parks as a quiet and passive woman, one would assume her personal hero was Martin Luther King, Jr. or Harriet Tubman. She deeply admired both, but Parks described her personal hero as Malcolm X. She and Malcolm had a lot of the same political views. Parks and Malcolm had their last meeting one week before his assassination.
Source: With contributions from “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” by Jeanne Theoharis.
I am Robyn Murrell, a 22-year- old broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University from Palmetto, Florida . The narrative of African- Americans in history was written before we earned the opportunity to contribute to it. My personal goal is to contribute to the rewriting of our narrative and tell our story as only we can tell it.