Vultures Row: Was Rosa Parks Act of Defiance Planned?

Was Rosa Parks Act of Defiance Planned?

Yesterday we heard a caller on a national talk radio show claim that Rosa Parks and her defiant act of not giving up a seat to a man on the bus on December 1, 1955 was preplanned.  The evidence she offered was that parks had long been a member of the local NAACP and had been involved in a case of the very same nature in an incident that happened on March 2, 1955, a full nine months before Mrs. Parks arrest.  

From Wikipedia’s entry on Mrs. Parks:

…she was not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat to a white person. In 1944 Jackie Robinson took a similar stand with an Army officer in Fort Hood, Texas, refusing to move to the back of a bus. He was brought before a court martial, which acquitted him.

The NAACP had accepted and litigated other cases before, such as that of Irene Morgan ten years earlier, which resulted in a victory in the Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds. That victory only overturned state segregation laws as applied to actual travel in interstate commerce, such as interstate bus travel.

Black leaders had begun to build a case around a 15-year-old girl, Claudette Colvin's arrest for refusing to relinquish her bus seat. Colvin was a student at Booker T. Washington High School. On March 2, 1955, she boarded a public bus. Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus when she refused to give up her seat to a white man. She screamed that her constitutional rights were being violated. At the time, Colvin was active in the NAACP's Youth Council. She was advised by none other than Mrs. Rosa Parks. Colvin said, "Mrs. Parks said always do what was right." Mrs. Parks was raising money for Colvin's defense. However, when E.D. Nixon learned that Colvin was pregnant, it was decided that Colvin was an unsuitable symbol for their cause. She was impregnated by a much older man soon after her arrest, which scandalized the deeply religious black community. They felt that the white press would manipulate Colvin's 'illegitimate' pregnancy as a means of undermining any boycott. Some historians have argued that civil-rights leaders, who were predominately middle class, were uneasy with Colvin's impoverished background. The NAACP had considered but rejected some earlier protesters deemed unable or unsuitable to withstand the pressure and trial cross examination of a legal challenge to racial segregation laws. Colvin was also prone to outbursts and cursing episodes. Many of the legal charges against Colvin were dropped. A boycott and legal case never materialized from the Colvin case law.
[Emphasis added]

Is she the hero that she has been made out to be?  Is the result of her actions any less important if it had been a planned action, instead of the spontaneous decision of one woman “tired of giving in”?

Some claim that the speed in which the boycott was enacted and that the NAACP was ready for court is proof that it was a planned event.  

On Monday, December 5, 1955, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed. Its members elected as their president a virtual newcomer to Montgomery, a young and relatively unknown minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That Monday night, 50 leaders of the African American community, headed by Dr. King, gathered to discuss the proper actions to be taken as a result of Mrs. Parks' arrest. E.D. Nixon said, "My God, look what segregation has put in my hands!" Parks was the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws. While the 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, unwed and pregnant, was deemed unacceptable to be the center of a civil rights mobilization, Dr. King stated that, "Mrs. Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest Negro citizens—but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery." Parks was securely married, employed, possessed a quiet demeanor and was politically savvy.

Mrs. Parks act was good for the country; there is absolutely no doubt of that.  If any one claims that her actions were political, they are right.  The politics of the time were wrong and her actions and those of Jessie Robinson, Irene Morgan and Claudette Colvin were the first steps in a national movement that lead to a great injustice being corrected.  He resolve to be the subject of the test case, whether contrived or spur of the moment, has led to a better America.  We still have a long way to go to get to true equality, but because of her we are very much on our way.  She never gave up on working for a better America either.

Academy of Achievement
After the death of her husband in 1977, Mrs. Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The Institute sponsors an annual summer program for teenagers called Pathways to Freedom. The young people tour the country in buses, under adult supervision, learning the history of their country and of the civil rights movement. President Clinton presented Rosa Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. She received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

Our country owes a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Parks.  The honors she has received are justified.  

Sources for this article:
Academy of Achievement

Collected 11/03/2005


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