Rosa Parks and civil disobedience

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr. ca. 1955. (National Archives and Records Administration)

By Prerana Korpe

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” These words, spoken by civil rights activist Rosa Parks, exemplify the role of civil disobedience used by Parks and other leaders in the fight for equality in the United States.

On Dec. 1, 1955, 42-year-old Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in routine fashion, but her ride home from work changed the course of history. Parks had taken a seat near the middle of the bus, just behind the “whites only” section. When the bus filled up and no seats remained, the driver ordered four African Americans, including Parks, to clear their seats so that a white man could sit down. All but Parks acquiesced.

Parks was arrested for her act of civil disobedience and convicted of violating the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South until 1965. Her arrest and subsequent appeal helped spark a 381-day-long boycott of public buses led by Martin Luther King Jr. and a court case that took Alabama’s discriminatory laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Considered the earliest substantial demonstration against segregation, the Montgomery Bus Boycott used the First Amendment’s guarantee to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” and brought national press attention to segregation in Alabama. The boycott ended when bus segregation was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1956.

A symbol of dignity and strength in the face of discrimination, Parks came to be known as “the mother of the civil rights movement.” She famously declared, “I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity – for all people.”

Visitors can explore the relationship between the news media and the 1960s civil rights movement and learn more about how citizens used their First Amendment freedoms to fight for equality in two powerful Newseum exhibits: “Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement” (on display indefinitely) and “1965: Civil Rights at 50” (on display through Jan. 3, 2016).

4 thoughts on “Rosa Parks and civil disobedience

  1. Rosa Parks is an inspiration and I hope that many people look up to her and appreciate everything that she stood for.

  2. Rosa Parks was disobedient for her time but in no way was what she did an act of “civil disobedience”; perhaps because I live in a time where, comparatively, we are nearly color-blind. No way would we consider asking someone of a dark skin tone to sit in the back of the bus (or give up their seat for a person of another skin color), or drink from a separate water fountain, or refer to another color always with “Ma’am” and “Sir”. I live in Oregon, outside of the City of Portland. We are pretty accepting here, not a lot of people of color, but folks are pretty liberal and educated.
    Jim Crow laws, “what are they?”, my generation would say. Thankfully, they are past-tense, and people my age have a hard time believing any “law” like those even existed! So what then can I compare it to these days? What “civil disobedience” would my generation commit? I am not sure. We can gather. We can stage sit-ins. We can protest. We should not yet be allowed to bear our own arms. We should not vandalize….I suppose if racial tensions toward people of Middle-eastern descent and toward Muslims increases, there will be opportunities to stand up for our fellow Americans. I am not sure what that will look like but hopefully will be nonviolent. What Rosa Parks did was completely nonviolent but rocked the entire nation. Do we have those opportunities anymore? On one hand, good that we don’t, in that perhaps we as a Nation have come a long way and gotten rid of archaic laws; on the other hand, peaceful protest, the opportunity and reason to be heard for a cause in which you believe…that is a great opportunity!

    Regardless, I have the most respect for the civil rights movement and for the common folks who did something uncommon, like Rosa Parks, who took a random opportunity, a chance, to stand up for what they knew was right and true. I do hope my generation has the opportunity for greatness as she did, however, I am not sure I would be so brave. Then again, I bet she did not think she would be so brave! We will have to wait and see.

    • I will have to respectfully disagree with you about whether or not Rosa Park was civilly disobedient. Rosa Parks broke the law. She openly disobeyed the law that stated she must give up her seat for a white person, even if she was sitting in the colored section. People of color were being beaten and murdered during this time. She was extremely brave to do what she did. I would suggest you watch the PBS series, The Eyes on the Prize. It will take you back to those turbulent times. It will give you an inkling of what these pioneers of justice and equal rights had to go through. We all are benefitting today for the sacrifices and the yearning for equality that was fought for back then. The amount of legislation that was passed to ensure equality was unparalleled at the time.

  3. Rosa Parks made it very clear that everyone should be treated equally and that we should not stay quite and we should fight for what we believe . Rosa park open the doors for all men and women no matter color , race or religion we all have rights and we should not let anyone treat us any different.

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