It has been almost fifty years since that event occurred. But, whenever I reflect back on it, the same emotions bubble inside of me. As the memories unfold in my mind like pictures from a photo album, my heart beats faster. My palms get sweaty. My knees even get weak just as they did that day. I know many history books never discuss my how I was feeling that day.
So, I am often portrayed as being this sort of "fearless" woman that felt nothing but determination to right the wrongs in our society. Whether it is being black, white, gay, straight, left-handed, or right-handed, all people deserve to be treated with equality and fairness. I always have and always will feel that if I can change society for the better I will try. But at the same rate, I am a human being, capable of having different emotions be aroused inside of me based on incidents that occur in my life.
That say, when I refused to give up my seat for that white man on the bus, different emotions boiled inside of me, some of which are indescribable. Overall, I was petrified of what could happen to me if I didn't give up my seat. I was angry at the fact that this bus driver demanded a particular behavior from me as if I was not just has human as the whites. Frustration built inside of me as I contemplated on the decision I was going to make. All of these thoughts and emotions took about ten seconds circulated inside of me before I declared "No." Even though I was feeling all of these things, I never let it show. I remember that day jus as clear as ever.
In fact, today marks the 48 th anniversary of the day it happened. It was December 1, 1955. At that time, I was living in Montgomery, Alabama. I had left my job as a tailor's assistant at the Montgomery Fair Department Store and walked to the Court Square bus stop as usual to catch the Cleveland Ave. bus home (Haskins and Parks 113). Once the bus finally arrived, I quickly got on and paid my fair, happy to get out of the cold.
"I didn't look to see who was driving when I got on and by the time I recognized him, I had already paid my fair" (Haskins and Parks 113). I remember the anger rising inside of me on sight of him. It was the same driver who had put me off the bus 12 years ago. He was a tall, heavy-set man with red, rough-looking hair. And he had this mean look on his face (Haskins and Parks 113). If I had seen him before I paid my fair, I would have never gotten on.
But, then I would have never gotten the chance to fight for what is just and tell my story to all of you. Before I continue, one must understand why blacks were so upset, but very content with the bus situation. For the most part, in Montgomery, blacks were required to pay their fair to the bus driver, then get off the bus and re-board through the back door. At time, the bus driver would pull off before the passenger, who previously paid, could make it to the back entrance.
The segregation laws required a white section and a separate black section on buses. The whites sat in the front section, while the blacks sat in the rear. If the white section was full when a white passenger boarded the bus, blacks were required to give up their seats and move further to the back or stand. A black passenger was not even allowed to sit across the aisle from a white passenger, let alone sit next to them. If he failed to follow the laws, the bus driver would call the police (Wilson Par. 3).
Once the police came, for the most part the situation would get ugly. They would drag the black passenger, who refused to obey the laws, off the bus and brutally beat him or her. You could be eight years old or eighty- eight years old. Age did not matter to them. No one black was excluded.
After the officers were done making an example out of him or her, they would carry the passenger off to jail where more brutality and discrimination would be inflicted on him. These humiliations were compounded by the fact that two-thirds of the bus riders in Montgomery were black (Wilson Par. 3). Please excuse me for going off on these tangents. You know how us old folks get: we always seem to start a story, but can't ever seem to finish it without starting new stories in between. Now where was I? Oh yes, I was talking about the bus driver.
After realizing whom the bus driver was, I decided that it was too late to get off the bus, and seated myself in the middle section of the bus. I can remember there being a man seated beside me next to the window and two women sitting across the aisle (Parks 63). The next stop was Empire Theater. Several white passengers boarded the bus at this stop. All were able to retrieve a seat except for one man. Once the bus driver turned around and noticed that there was a white man standing, he immediately looked at the blacks in my section and said, " Y'all better give make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats." The man beside me stood up.
I moved to let him pass me. When I looked across the aisle, the two women previously seated were already standing. My heart raced furiously as I kindly moved over to the window seat (Haskins and Parks 115). "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, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although most people have an image of me as being old then.
I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in" (Parks 61). The driver noticed that I had not gotten up and asked with a growl in his voice, "Are you going to remove yourself girl?" I used the kindest, softest voice I could muster up and said, "No." He replied, "Well, I'm going to have you arrested."You may do that," I responded. I sat there trying not to think of what would happen to me as a result of my actions. But, I kept thinking about it.
I knew that anything was possible and that had me terrified. I was terrified of what they could do to me. At the same time, I was angered at how they forced me to live in such terror. I have been asked recently if t occurred to me at that time that I could be the test case that the NAACP had been looking for. This was brought about due to two prior occurrences involving black women and the refusal of their seat on a bus.
The first incident involved a 15-year-old, Claudette Colvin. She was arrested and charged with misconduct, resisting arrest, and violating municipal segregation laws (Haskins and Parks 11). She was willing to let her case be taken to federal court, but there were was a problem that could not be solved. She was pregnant and unmarried. Since this problem was unable to withstand media scrutiny, the NAACP decided to wait until a better plaintiff came along (Brown 1).
The other incident entailed Ms. Louise Smith, an 18-year-old housekeeper who refused to give up her seat (Haskins and Parks 112). She was arrested for the act as well. It was said that she paid her fine immediately to avoid protesting (Haskins and Parks 112). Nothing was ever really said about the incident again after its occurrence. This incident never made any since to me.
What was the point of giving up her seat in the first place if she wanted to avoid protesting? After all, isn't the action of not giving up your seat a form of protest against the segregation laws? Here I go again running at the mouth. Now what was I discussing? Oh yes, the NAACP test case. I didn't think about being a test case for the NAACP at all. Thinking back on it now, If I had allowed myself to think deeply about the consequences of my actions, I more than likely would have ran off the bus as fast as I could.
"But I chose to remain (Parks and Haskins 116). It appeared that other black passengers did not want to take any chances. The back of the bus slowly cleared out as many had begun to leave. Several people muscled up enough courage to remain in their seats, but they were quiet as house mice. About 20 minutes had pasted before the police came.
Two policemen boarded the bus and headed towards me. One of them asked, "Why didn't you stand up?"Why do you all push us around?" I replied. (Haskins and Parks 117). My words were very bold. I was surprised when the policemen picked up my purse and shopping bags and allowed me to lead the way off the bus. I was expecting a slap, a push, or a shove.
But, nothing occurred. Not even a spit in the face. I walked of the bus and seated myself in the police car. They even returned my belongings to me once I was seated (Haskins and Parks 117).
The policemen at City Hall were not as nice. I remember asking for a drink of water and one of the policemen saying, "No, you can't have no drink of water. You gotta wait 'til you get to jail." All I wanted to do was wet my throat. They would not allow it. I was furious by that, but there was nothing I could do.
I was arrested under the segregation laws. All of my life I had to live with the segregation. These laws kept me separated from the whites, it also allowed them to treat blacks disrespectfully. I never thought this was fair since the day I learned about the idea of segregation. By standing up against these segregation laws I was able to help get rid of them for good. What began as a single day of protest, sparked 381 days of the Montgomery bus boycott.
The U. S. Supreme Court declared Montgomery's bus segregation unconstitutional (Montgomery Bur Boycott 1). Finally, I was able to board a bus a sit where ever I wanted to. No bus driver or police officer would be able to force me to give up my seat due to the segregation laws. They were demolished.
Progress had finally begun to integrate our society and to allot everyone equal rights. God had given me the opportunity to help with this progress. Work Cited Brown, Dr. Do nita.
"Rita Dove, TIME 100: The Torchbearer Rosa Parks Her simple act of protest galvanized America's civil rights revolution." 2002. 1 Nov. 2003. Haskins, Jim and Parks, Rosa Rosa Parks: My Story. New York: Dial Books, 1992. Parks, Rosa.
"Tired of Giving In." Sisters in the Struggle. Collier-Thomas, Bettye. And Franklin, V. P. New York and London: New York University Press, 2001. 61-74.
"Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott." 14 Mar. 1999. Sanakofa Project. 11 Nov. 2003. Wilson, Kimberly.
"It's Ok to Talk Trash At The Barbershop." Dec. 2002. Project 21 New Visions Commentary. 21. Nov. 2003..