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5 Myths Behind the Rosa Parks Story

By Hope Imaka – EMTV Online

 Rosa Parks, was an African-American Civil Rights Movement activist, dubbed “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement”, by the United States Congress.

On December 1st, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to obey bus Driver James Blake’s order to give up her seat in the coloured section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. 

This sparked a bus boycott by the African American community.

Rosa’s stand that afternoon further pushed the movement for the wall of segregation to be brought down.

However, as time passed these 60 years, the facts about that day slowly turned into fables, to portray a lesson throughout histrory.

Here are five myths about what happened that first evening of December in 1955.

1. Rosa Parks sat in the whites-only section of the bus.

Rosa Parks did not sit in the whites-only section of the bus.

In fact she had sat in the middle 16 seats that run on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Montgomery municipal buses each had 36 seats. The first 10 were reserved for whites only.

The last 10 seats were theoretically reserved for blacks, whilst the middle where Rosa Parks sat, were more or less integrated, where the bus driver is able to retain his authority to rearrange seats in preference of whites being attended to.

Parks was sitting in an aisle seat on the front row of this middle section. To her left, across the aisle, were two black women. To her right, in the window seat, was a black man.

2. If Rosa Parks had not moved, a white passenger would not have had a place to sit.

A few minutes later, when the bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theatre, several white passengers boarded, and driver James E. Blake (1912–2002) noticed a white man standing near the front. He called out for the four black passengers in Parks’ row to move to the back, where they would have to stand, as all of the seats were now taken.

Whilst the three men in Parks’ row reluctantly proceeded to the back of the bus, Parks however, calmly refused explaining that her decision to remain seated in the row would not harm the white passenger in any way, and that there were more than enough seats for him to choose from.

3. This was Rosa Parks’ first conflict with that bus driver.

Prior to this incident, Rosa Park had in fact gotten involved in a tussle with Blake the bus driver in November of 1943.

For the next 12 years after this incident, Parks had avoided boarding his bus.

If Rosa Parks had been paying attention, she never would have gotten on the bus driven by the tall, blond, 43-year-old Blake. He had a reputation for spitting his tobacco juice, using derogatory language toward black passengers (and black women in particular) and making black passengers pay their fare in the front of the bus but re-enter in the rear, only to pull away before they could get back on.

But on Dec. 1, 1955, she absentmindedly boarded without noting that she was once again entering a bus driven by Blake. It proved to be a serendipitous mistake.

4. Rosa Parks refused to stand up because she was tired.

Parks sought to set the record straight:

“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, or no more tired than I was at the end of a working day…. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

To attribute her action to fatigue would have pointed to weakness rather than to the source of her strength. She insisted that the power to love her enemies came from God: “God has always given me the strength to say what is right.”

5. Rosa Parks was the first black woman to exercise civil disobedience on a Montgomery bus.

Nearly nine months before Rosa Parks’ famous arrest, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested on a Montgomery bus for refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger. She refused to move, began yelling about her constitutional rights and had to be physically removed from the bus by police officers.

Although Colvin’s actions would not be the precipitating factor in the bus boycott, they did inspire Parks, who served as an activist and secretary with the Montgomery NAACP.

When the Supreme Court upheld the ruling on Dec. 20, 1956, ordering Alabama to end radicalized bus segregation, so ended the remarkable 381-day bus boycott by the black citizens of Montgomery, which had begun the Monday after Parks’ arrest.

 The mugshot and finger-printing images often used to illustrate stories about her stand on the bus were actually taken months afterward, after she had presented herself for arrest when Montgomery criminalised the carpools that the city’s black community was using to orchestrate the bus boycott. The bus image meanwhile was staged at a later date; the man sitting in the seat behind her is a reporter.

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