The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
From Psalm 27, one of Rosa’s two favorite psalms
Rosa Parks is often thought of as quiet and demure, a devout Christian and a stoic supporter of non-violent civil disobedience. Those who knew her well understood that this was only part of the picture – the public part. She had always been an activist and a bit of a rebel.
Rosa’s mother and her maternal grandparents raised her. She was greatly influenced by grandparents who had very different responses to their lives as slaves. Her grandmother was a Christian who stood strong in her faith in God and His gospel of Love. Her grandfather, the son of his slave mother and their master, was driven by his hatred of white people. He stood armed and ready to fight the Ku Klux Klan whenever their home in Pine Level, AL, was threatened and he dreamed of following Marcus Garvey back to the motherland in Africa. Rosa was a blend of the two.
Rosa grew into a very private person. She felt strongly about race issues, but had never discussed them with anyone outside of her family until she met Raymond Parks. “Parks,” as she called him, was actively involved in the NAACP. He met regularly with the local NAACP committee working on the Scottsboro Boys case. He continued that work after he and Rosa married. The committee met in their home secretly with pistols on the table just in case . . . Parks asked Rosa to wait on the porch outside during the meetings so she would not hear their conversation. That way, if the men were arrested, she could honestly say she did not know what they were saying.
Rosa joined the NAACP and was an active member, serving as secretary and the head of the NAACP youth activities — including their effort to desegregate the Montgomery public library. They failed, but the young people learned how to take a stand against segregation and for personal dignity. Rosa had been thrown off a Montgomery City bus 12 years before the famous incident in 1955. Starting in 1943, Rosa doggedly went to register to vote three times before she “passed the test” and had the privilege of paying the $16.50 poll tax so that she could finally vote in 1946. In the summer of 1955, she received a scholarship to attend leadership training at the famed Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and was profoundly influenced by Myles Horton and grass roots organizer Septima Clark. Rosa regularly gave her lunch hour to helping Fred Gray, a young black attorney, with his office. As the secretary of the NAACP, she kept current with all the cases in which they were seeking action. She became a supporter of both Martin Luther King, whom she considered a good friend, and Malcom X, whom she never met, but did hear speak a week before he was assassinated.
Rosa said in a 1967 interview, “I don’t believe in gradualism or that whatever is to be done for the better should take forever to do.” She was always ready for action. Refusing to give up her bus seat that fateful day in 1955 was almost instinctive for Rosa; because she was tired of giving in, being pushed around, seeing people treated badly because of the color of their skin, obeying Jim Crow laws, and being oppressed. She was never one to let fear overwhelm her: “When one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.” Rosa Parks was primed and ready for action, as was all of the black population of Montgomery AL in 1955. They simply seized the moment.
Quotes from Rosa regarding the incident on the bus:
The only “tired” I was, was tired of giving in.
When one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.
I would have compromised my dignity if I had buckled one more time to the white establishment and relinquished my seat.
Your behavior must be above reproach . . . this is how you gain the respect of others.
Segregation itself is vicious and to my mind there is no way you could make segregation decent or nice or acceptable.
Love, not fear, must be our guide.
Rosa Parks – A Life by Douglas Brinkley
Ms. Stone’s notes: This is the book I rely on extensively. It is extremely well researched and written very clearly and objectively. His bibliographical notes are excellent. I have read quite a few titles from it. My favorites: The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward; The Montfomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started it by Jo Ann Robinson; Making Whiteness by Grace Elizabeth Hale.
Rosa Parks – My Story by Rosa Parks and James Haskins
Becky Stone is a storyteller who also has training as an actor. She has performed as a storyteller, actor, singer, and dancer for 45 years when raising four children, teaching, directing, and small magazine publishing with her husband has allowed.
In 2002, the Greenville, South Carolina Chautauqua Society contacted the Asheville-Buncombe North Carolina Library to see if they could recommend someone to portray Pauli Murray the following year. They were put in touch with Becky. That began her Chautauqua career. She has portrayed Pauli Murray, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks for Greenville and several other Chautauquas. She also regularly performs these characters using the Chautauqua format for schools, churches, libraries, and universities.