The Making of Rosa Parks - Beyond the Myth

Every American knows the often told story of Rosa Parks whose refusal on the fated day of 1955 to give up her bus seat to a white man, when ordered to do so by the bus driver, provoked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She is recognized as the catalyst of American Civil Rights movement. What is often overlooked is the background behind the famous incident by daughter of James and Leona McCauley. It was not simply physical tiredness on that day; it was not a spur of the moment decision.

Rosa Parks Today

The story’s standard rendition and one repeated even in many of her obituaries–stripped the Montgomery boycott of all of its context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had been active for twelve years in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary. The summer before her arrest, she’d had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee’s labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she’d met an older generation of civil rights activists, like South Carolina teacher Septima Clark, and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning “separate-but-equal” schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign.

Parks’s real story conveys a far more empowering moral. She begins with seemingly modest steps. She goes to a meeting, and then another, helping build the community that in turn supported her path. Hesitant at first, she gains confidence as she speaks out. She keeps on despite a profoundly uncertain context, as she and others act as best they can to challenge deeply entrenched injustices, with little certainty of results. Had she and others given up after her tenth or eleventh year of commitment, we might never have heard of Montgomery. .Parks also reminds us that even in a seemingly losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire another, and that person yet a third, who may then go on to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. Rosa Parks’s husband Raymond convinced her to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a path that brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so? What experiences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions? The links in any chain of influence are too numerous, too complex to trace. But being aware that such chains exist, that we can choose to join them, and that lasting change doesn’t occur in their absence, is one of the primary ways to sustain hope, especially when our actions seem too insignificant to amount to anything.


We put our heroes on a pedestal, forget how they incrementally overcame their limitations and became what they are. This makes it very hard for others to achieve their distinction or even surpass them. People wait for their golden moment which may never come.We forget heroes are a product of incremental deliberate actions, often riddled with failures. With their persistence and with time they slowly overcame their limitations.


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