Rosa Park kept her seat and ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, setting off in the nation a protest against Jim Crow laws that became the Civil Rights Movement, of which she became the mother.
I didn’t fully understand what Jim Crow laws were when was a little girl. I just knew Jim Crow laws were bad for black people and meant there were many restrictions on what we could do:
Where we could live
Where we could go
What seat we could take
Where we could eat
Where we could go to school
Although, news reports of Rosa Parks were slow to reach our home, I began to realize the role Rosa Parks played in the fight against Jim Crow laws. My parents tried to insulate me from the ravages of discrimination the best they could, but I had to go out into the world to go to school and shop. Even as a child, I could see the differences between our streets and those that led to the downtown district. Then when my house and neighborhood began buzzing about civil rights news and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I learned about Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement and the names of civil rights activists like Rosa Parks from hearing their names in conversations between my mother, father and Bigmama when they talked about current events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Brown v the Board of Education.
At the time, though, there was no biographical information about the central figures of the civil rights movement and my family probably had no idea of Rosa Parks’ involvement in the protection of black women from rape and lynching. I only began to learn about that part of her life lately as I investigated for a book I am writing about her. I am shocked that I was not aware of the number of black women raped and lynched in America after slavery ended. Rape and lynching of black women and, of course also black men, went on through the 1950s and ’60s.
The Laura Nelson lynching was two years before Rosa Parks was born, but still fresh in the minds of young black girls as to what could happen to them. I never saw this picture when I was a child, but I had heard the name Laura Nelson and the fear that accompanied discussions of her lynching. I remember thinking, Laura Nelson could be me or a woman in my family.
Rosa Parks joined the NAACP and became an investigator of rape and lynching of black women in Alabama a decade before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She set out to prove that lynching was being used as a weapon against the African American community by the ruling class to control behavior. Parks unearthed several cases of rape, but was unable to bring them to justice and use them to fight Jim Crow laws and treatment of black communities.
Eventually, Parks and the NAACP planned the Montgomery Bus Boycott to meet civil rights requirements because black women going to work were the primary passengers and were being abused and discriminated against while riding the buses. For her part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were jailed.
I knew of the children killed in the church bombing in Alabama. They were my age. They could have been me and my friends. If the purpose of all the violence I was hearing about and seeing on television was to frighten me, then the violence did what it was intended to do. I was scared out of my wits.
In fact, I didn’t want to go out of the house. I just didn’t see the point in living at all until my mother told me, “You have no choice but to live,” she said. “When you think you can’t go on, you go on.”
My family either knew changes were coming or were unwilling to let me use Jim Crow laws as an excuse for bad behavior and poor performance in the schools I was allowed to attend. My mother, especially, made me feel really badly when I confessed to her that I was not currently reading a book that had not been assigned at school. Then, she would assign a book. She had constructed shelves in the living room for books that she purchased at yard sales and places going out of business. At that time, in our town, the library was not actually segregated, but reserved for white readers only. My mother and I made many trips on a Greyhound Bus to public libraries in cities near us.
Jim Crow laws affected everything about our lives, including the schools I attended until I graduated from high school; and later getting into college. But Jim Crow laws did not affect the global education my mother presented to me with my China tea set and other tools, like meditation, which she discovered and adapted to her global education. My mother would use that China tea set to teach me about the world outside of Jim Crow Laws, under which my ancestors had lived for nearly a century and my family would live for years to come.
Sunny Nash–author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations in–writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking, Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life–from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women’s issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements–past and present—to today’s post-racism.
Bigmama Didn’t Shop at Woolworth’s is recognized by the Association of American University Presses for its value to the understanding of U.S. race relations. The book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.
© 2013 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.