Sixty years ago today Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white passengers on a segregated bus. PETER FROST pays tribute.
ROSA PARKS’s refusal to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger 60 years ago spurred the Montgomery boycott and other efforts to end segregation.
She was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. After her parents separated Rosa’s mother moved the family to live with her parents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards — both former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality.
Among Rosa’s early memories was one incident where her grandfather stood in front of their house with a shotgun while Ku Klux Klan members marched down the street.
In 1932, at age 19, Rosa met and married Raymond Parks, an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She became the local NAACP youth leader.
Both she and her husband attended Communist Party meetings and schools, completing their political education.
By the 1940s she was campaigning on various issues from segregation to white men’s sexual abuse of black women.
Then on December 1 1955, after a long day’s work as a seamstress at a Montgomery department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus for home. She took a seat in the first of several rows designated for “coloured” passengers.
As the bus began to fill with white passengers the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle. He stopped the bus and asked four black passengers to give up their seats.
In an action that would change the world, Rosa refused and remained seated. The police arrested Rosa at the scene.
After Parks’s heroic action, it was Jo Ann Robinson who organised a city bus boycott by black US citizens in Montgomery, Alabama.
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson: Born in 1912 in Georgia, she was the 12th child of her farmer parents. She became the first college graduate of her family.
Becoming a school teacher in 1949, Robinson moved to Montgomery to teach English at Alabama State College.
She also became active in the Montgomery community, joining the Women’s Political Council (WPC), a group designed to motivate black women to take political action.
In the late 1940s she was screamed at for sitting in the empty white section of a city bus. This incident led her to start to fight against the segregated city bus system.
When Robinson became president of the WPC in 1950, she focused the organisation’s efforts to desegregate buses.
Following the arrest of Parks on December 1 1955, Robinson urged for Montgomery’s black residents to boycott city buses on December 5 of that year.
When the boycott proved successful, many male leaders of the civil rights movement including Martin Luther King Junior moved in to take over leadership of the campaign, but Robinson was appointed to the executive board and produced a weekly newsletter at King’s personal request.
For her role as a leader of the boycott, Robinson was arrested and targeted with violence. Police officers threw a rock into her window and poured acid on her car.
Daisy Bates: Born in November 1914 her birth mother had been raped and murdered by three local white men. Bates was raised by foster parents.
In 1941 she and her husband started one of the first newspapers specifically for black people. Her Arkansas State Press carried stories about civil rights and became an early voice for black protest.
Daisy became a leader in the fight to desegregate Arkansas schools. Her house became a meeting place where black children assembled to march to school, often with Daisy leading them.
These daily processions were attacked both by local racists and state troopers. The children were turned away from the whites-only schools but the battle went on.
The Ku Klux Klan planted blazing crosses outside Daisy’s house on more than one occasion.
In 1954 the Supreme Court made all the segregated schools illegal, but still the schools in Arkansas refused to enrol black students.
In 1957, because of its strong voice during the Little Rock schools campaign, white advertisers boycotted Daisy’s paper. This successfully cut off funding and the paper was forced to close in October 1959.
Daisy Bates continued to campaign with the NAACP and her work made a huge contribution to the final victory in desegregating education all across the South.
Ruby Hurley: She was born in Virginia in 1909, during the period of racist Jim Crow laws. In 1939 she was involved in organising a concert by black singer Marian Anderson. The racist Daughters of the American Revolution tried to ban the concert.
Ruth arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a live audience of over 75,000 and a radio audience of millions.
In 1943 she became youth secretary of the NAACP. She would work for them for over 40 years.
She moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where she opened the first permanent NAACP office in the Deep South. She investigated beatings, lynchings and judicial murders, including the cases of the Rev George Lee and Emmett Till, both in 1955, and Medgar Evers in 1963.
At the time of Hurley’s achievements the NAACP and the civil rights movement were still largely dominated by men. She is hugely admired as a pioneer of black feminist activism.
Amelia Boynton Robinson: She was born in 1911 in Savannah, Georgia. Both of her parents were of African-American, Cherokee Indian and German descent.
Her early activism included holding black voter registration drives.
She came to world prominence when she was brutally beaten while leading a 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.
In 1964 she ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat in Congress from Alabama, becoming the first black woman to do so, as well as the first woman to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Alabama. She died in August this year at the age of 104.
Fannie Lou Hamer: Born in 1917 in the Mississippi Delta, she was the youngest of 20 children in a sharecropping family. At the age of six she started work picking cotton. During surgery to remove a tumour she was given an unauthorised hysterectomy, a common practice to sterilise young poor black women.
In 1962 she met civil rights activists who encouraged blacks to register to vote. That year she travelled with 17 others to the county courthouse in Indianola to register. All along the way the bus was attacked by local and state law enforcement.
She encouraged her fellow campaigners by singing hymns. It would become her trademark tactic in future protests. For having the audacity to try to register to vote, Fannie was fired from her job and driven from her plantation home.
From then on Fannie dedicated her life to the fight for civil rights, working for the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee. She was threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot at. In 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Fannie Hamer died in 1977. Her grave carries one of her best quotes: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
This tribute first appeared in the Morning Star 1 December 2015