Rosa Parks Myth

politicsThe master narrative of Civil Rights is a very basic and sometimes misleading history of the quest for equality for African Americans. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is often portrayed as a stepping-stone towards the end of racism that was led almost single-handedly by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.. The assumption that America holds about the Montgomery Bus Boycott is surrounded by the idea of “Rosa Parks, the tired” instead of a more national feeling of “America, tired of racism.” Textbooks and teachers often put Rosa Parks in the front seat of the movement, but this dismisses the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a whole and causes the movement to lose a lot of the meaning that it holds.

Though Rosa Parks made a big difference, the real difference was made by all of the people who chose not to ride. There was segregation in a majority of the United States and it was more than simply “not being allowed to use the same public facilities such as restaurants or swimming pools.” Segregation was everywhere and was about everything. It was very emotionally damaging to everyone involved, especially young children.

People were trying to change the ways of segregation for a long time, but without proper support of major civil rights groups, the attempts floundered and were forgotten. Before Rosa Parks, girls like Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith refused to go to the back of the bus or give up their seats for white people, but the NAACP did not support or plan their rebellions and so these acts were minimally publicized. Even the bus boycott itself was not the first of its kind; tt was preceded by the bus boycott in Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge Bus Boycott only lasted one week but many ideas stemmed from it including tactics such as carpooling and handing out flyers to spread the word.

The idea that Rosa Parks was “tired and angry and stubborn” is not accurate. She planned her stand (or rather, her sit) as the secretary of the NAACP and it was far from impromptu. People are taught that Rosa Parks’ arrest was the reason for the boycott but that is wrong, she was really the spark for the fire that had been heating up for a very long time. “So they decided to refuse to ride the buses until everyone was allowed to ride together” is so light and fluffy—what they really wanted was equality and rights and they fought long and hard for them. They wanted to be citizens of this country just as much as any white man, and that is what they desperately fought for, for 13 months.

Another assumption that is often made is that Martin Luther King led the boycott, which is inaccurate. The people led the boycott. He was elected the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and instilled power in the people, but ultimately the people are the ones who made the change and stayed off of the busses for freedom. Yes, Rosa Parks is a very brave person but so were all of the other people who fought for their rights.

February 22, 2010