Rosa Parks & The Montgomery Bus Boycott

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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.

 

Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-56

Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-56

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.

Laura Nelson, Oklahoma, 1911

Laura Nelson, Oklahoma, 1911

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 - Booking Photo, Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks

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.

Little Girls Killed in Alabama

Little Girls Killed in Alabama

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 Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's

Sunny Nash, Author
Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s

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.

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Martin Luther King – I Have a Dream

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Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream,’ written after Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, ignited the Civil Rights Movement against Jim Crow laws.

Doris Topsy-Elvord, Long Beach Living Legend

Photo: Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott

Martin Luther King, starting with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, came into national prominence fighting Jim Crow laws. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King was assisted by both black and white members of an organization he founded, the Montgomery Improvement Association. This organization’s purpose was to raise money to finance the activities of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, money to bail those involved in the boycott out of jail and buy gasoline for drivers. 

 Martin Luther King – March on Washington & The Dream

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Legacy of Rosa Parks & the Montgomery Bus Boycott

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Rosa Parks challenged Jim Crow laws, igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and her legacy lives on.

Legacy of Rosa Parks & the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks on Bus

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to another bus rider, she set the nonviolent tone used by Martin Luther King in his nonviolent protest methods that left quite a legacy for both civil rights activists in their fight against Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, including the Woolworth Sit-ins and Freedom Riders, were modeled on the nonviolent style and tactics of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

Learn more about Rosa Parks:

Rosa Parks: Black Womanhood, Rape & Lynching

Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells created a century-long movement (1850s-1950s) against Jim Crow laws that allowed rape and lynching of black women and girls.

 

Rosa Parks, 1960s Fashion and Civil Rights

Fashion in the 1960s is a memorable part of the Civil Rights Movement.


Before Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I A Woman?

Before Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, became a women’s and civil rights activist during the era of Jim Crow laws.

My Mother & The Thinkers

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My Mother & The Thinkers.

My mother said people who create, participate in and appreciate art are better thinkers than those who do not. 

Sunny Nash Signs Her Book

Sunny Nash Signs Her Book

“Those interested in literature and art handle conversation better,” she said. “It has to do with the way their brains work and how they decide to live their lives; maybe because they read.” Over the years, I have to admit that she was right dragging me to see exhibitions, making me read biographies about artists like Rodin and listening with me to classical music.

It wasn’t enough to just own a book. My mother said, “You’re no better off, if you don’t read the book, than you would be if you didn’t even own it.”

During the era of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Jim Crow laws, my mother tried to give me an elevated experience, I was not as receptive to it as she would have liked. I was distracted by the Civil Rights Movement that heating up when I was still young. So, she subscribed to national black periodicals and made me read about Brown v the Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders and the Woolworth Sit-ins. Some of these events happened when I was so young that I was picking out words, one at a time, and asking her what they were. I wasn’t too happy about all that reading, either, but I began to appreciate her insistence that I become educated outside of my segregated world.

“Being a thinker means you want to know something about art,” she said. My Mother & The Thinkers.

My Mother & The Thinkers

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When I was a little girl, Jim Crow laws did not allow African Americans in our town to use the segregated public library in the 1950s.

My mother believed people who appreciated art were better thinkers than those who do not.

In the 1950 and 1960s, there was segregation in schools and most other facilities and services in the Southern United states and many areas of the North. To maintain Jim Crow laws, our city like many others sent a bookmobile into certain neighborhoods to discourage African Americans from using the downtown library. A bookmobile was a converted bus with rows of shelves with books. The bookmobile was most active in summer and came to area parks and other public places where African Americans were allowed to gather.

Times do change.

That same library in my hometown has hosted celebrations of my career and actively collects my work. However, when I was a child, until we were allowed to use the library, my mother and I took a Greyhound Bus 100 miles away to Houston to use the Houston Public Library. It was an all day affair, but worth it, even if we didn’t qualify for library cards because we were from out of town and not because we were black. We sat among all those art books on the shelves and read until it was time for us to catch our bus back home.  At the time, we concentrated on art because there wasn’t a great deal written in books about people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. At that time, neither neither my mother or me imagined that I would write books and take photographs chronicling African Americans that would be collected by the Houston Public Library; or maybe Littie did imagine that when I was a child.

However, the thinking part had to do with getting a college education. Without education, she said, perhaps you won’t be able to go as far as you can.”

College_graduates

Martin Luther King, Jim Crow Laws & Television

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WHEN I LEARNED ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER KING, ROSA PARKS, CIVIL RIGHTS AND JIM CROW LAWS, AMERICAN SCHOOLS, MOVIES, TELEVISION AND POLITICS WERE ALSO BLACK AND WHITE IN RACIAL TERMS.

Jim Crow Laws in America
The History of Jim Crow Laws in America

A little blue door leading up rickety stairs on the outside of the movie theater to segregated smelly balcony seating did not stop my mother from taking me to see movies in the 1950s and ’60s.

Black children my age being abused by southern white law officials like Bull Conner did not stop me from watching fifteen-minute national news broadcasts on television. That’s what television was for me back then, a medium that led to change in the Jim Crow laws in America. 

What I realized over the years is that people were set in their ways of thinking. And their behavior was based on their ways of thinking. It takes a lot of energy and creativity on both sides of an issue to break old habits. But it can be done. Once you look at yourself honestly, you can be shamed into changing your behavior. Television and movies were a big part of shaming people into changing their behavior and changing the way the America looked at itself. Even the staunchest haters and believers in inequality cringed at the sight of themselves and those who represented their views on screen.

 

Shooting Without A Gun

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In the neighborhood I grew up in, guns, knives, fists, chains and other weapons were common. I saw first hand what guns and other violence could do to a neighborhood, a family, a childhood.

On weekends, people got drunk and forgot what they had been taught at home, if they had ever been taught anything at home. As a child, I saw this behavior around me, no matter how hard my mother tried to shield me from it. The behavior was in my family. Cousins, aunts, uncles who visited sometimes had too much to drink, and sometimes started fights with each other or friends or neighbors or anyone handy.

Walking home from school, I passed five beer joints where drunks staggered to the sides of the buildings to relieve themselves in plain view. Fights were so common, we simply crossed the street to avoid being hit by flying beer bottles. My cousin was shot in the arm passing by a beer joint at mid-day. All the violence around me was hard to digest. People were saying it was because poor black people felt cheated and discriminated against; and they didn’t know any other way to handle their frustrations than violence.

Even the president wasn’t safe from the violence. President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas as I watched on television with the rest of my schoolmates. Some Americans said they were not saddened by his assassination and blamed his liberal Civil Rights policies for his death.

Kennedy_signing bill

President John F. Kennedy

At the time, I was child struggling with a life that was filled with violence. If the president of the United States could not be protected from violence, how could I feel safe? Television was filled with police violence against civil rights marchers and bus riders. Dogs were even set loose on little school children protesting Jim Crow laws.

When a man killed a cousin of mine by beating her to death with a car chain, he went to prison for about a year. I vowed to kill him when he got out, not because I was afraid of him. I felt pure vengence when I stole my grandmother’s gun from her underwear drawer. But I couldn’t find her bullets. She discovered my plan and confronted me. Later, she presented me with a Brownie camera and said, “Now, you can shoot without a gun.

Read more about Sunny Nash’s childhood in her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, about life with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, during the era of Jim Crow laws in the United States. Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations; listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

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