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Eng 2173 - Rosa Parks - Her Gift - a Simple Act

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Rosa Parks - Her Gift - A Simple Act

Cynthia Y. Joseph

LeTourneau University

Written Communications II

ENGL 2173 (G)

M. Klue

May 5, 2010

Abstract

The small and yet powerful Rosa Louise Parks, whose act of refusing to surrender her seat on a public bus so that a white passenger could sit, was one of the events that started the Civil Right Movement. Major influences on her decision included childhood experiences, character traits, family and social relationships and her Christian faith.

Rosa Parks - Her Gift - A Simple Act

On December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her set on a bus ride home from work to a white passenger, she took a stand. Her simple act, and the arrest that followed, sparked the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott. Parks was arrested for violating a city law requiring that whites and blacks sit in separate rows on public buses. Her nonviolent act of civil disobedience was one of the sparks that ignited the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. There were several experiences influencing her action to disobey: childhood, personal character traits, family, friends, and Christian faith.

Foremost, childhood experiences played a role in her decision. According to Rosa, she was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, and named Rosa after her maternal grandmother, Rose (Brinkley, 2005). Her mother was around twenty-five years old and always said that she was unprepared to be a mother. Her mother was a teacher, who quit teaching until after Rosa was born, and her father was a carpenter, who worked in different places in the country, so he spent most of his time away from home. Rosa's mother cried most of the time and wondered how she was going to get along, because she was not used to having a sickly child to take care of. By the time that Rosa became a toddler, she and her mom moved to Pine Level, Alabama to live with her mother's parents.

Later, her father joined them and they lived as a family. Her mother gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named Sylvester, when Rosa was two years old. When she turned two and a half, her father left and she did not see him again until she was five years old and then not anymore until she was an adult and married. While living with her grandparents, she learned a lot about her maternal ancestors and the harsh treatment that they had endured as slaves. Her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards, was the son of a white plantation owner and a slave housekeeper, seamstress who never went out to work in the fields. He had a very fair complexion and could have been mistaken for white. When Sylvester was young his mother and his owner died. The overseer beat him, tried to starve him, and would not let him have any shoes. He was treated so badly that he developed a very intense, hatred for white people. Her grandfather also suffered from arthritis and he did not want Rosa or her brother to play with or near white children. What her grandfather wanted most of all was for none of his children or anyone related to him to ever have to cook or clean for whites. Sylvester wanted all of his children to be educated. Rosa's grandmother, Rose, instilled in her; that, you should not put up with bad treatment from anyone (Parks & Haskins, Rosa Parks My Story, 1992).

Early in life Rosa learned that she was not a full Negro but of mixed blood. Her younger brother, Sylvester, was so light-skinned that his slanted eyes gave him an Asian appearance. Her grandfather was always doing or saying something to agitate or embarrass white people, given the fact that he looked as though he was one of them. His actions exposed Rosa to her first experience of overt civil disobedience. In the care of her grandparents, while her mother went away to teach, she felt the violence of white supremacist. The lynching of blacks had become commonplace and the Ku Klux Klan members were riding through the black community, burning churches, beating, and killing black people. Her grandfather stayed by the door at night with his shot gun and the family slept with their clothing on, just in case the Ku Klux Klan attacked during the night(Brinkley, 2005).

Second, Rosa possessed many defining character traits that influenced her decision. As an older sister, she was very defensive of her brother, Sylvester. She would often step in and volunteer to accept discipline from her grandparents in his place. Rosa was small in stature; however, her size made no difference; he was her little brother and she wanted to protect him. On several occasions she defended him against white children, an act that could have cost her life. Growing up she was independent and no one ever pushed her around. According to Brinkley, the outwardly demure Parks had a defiant streak from the start. Parks attributed her independence to the teachings of her grandfather and of a white teacher from Melrose, Massachusetts that introduced Rosa Parks to the wider world (Parks & Reed, Quiet Strength, 1994).

Determination, dignity and courage were traits that also defined Parks. A perfect example of this is in her description of why she refused to give up her seat on the bus:

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, no more than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some 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.

-from "In Memoriam: Rosa Parks"

(Boyd, 2006, p. 42)

This act was well thought out and it took courage for Rosa to refuse to give up her seat. She was taken to jail, fined, lost her job and eventually had to relocate as a result of her action. It took courage for her to allow her case to be the test case in the fight against desegregation of the public bus laws. The dignity that Rosa displayed during this time involved grace and quiet strength. She was determined to finish what she had begun.

Third, Parks family and social community was influential in her decisions. Raymond Parks, whom Rosa married in December 1932, was the first real activist that she met. He was the first black man aside from her grandfather and Mr. Gus Vaughn, who was never afraid of white people. Rosa was impressed with him because he did not have a meek - "Uncle Tom" attitude toward white people. He was a founding member of

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