MOUNT VERNON — Rosa Parks’ defiant stand to keep her seat on a Montgomery, Ala. bus started in motion a serious of changes that would affect the state of segregation in the United States.
“Most historians date the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States to Dec. 1, 1955. That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Ala., refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This brave woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere,” stated Parks’ biography listed in the Academy of Achievement Living History Museum.
Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Ala. to James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona McCauley, a teacher. At the age of 2, she moved to her grandparents’ farm in Pine Level, Ala. with her mother and younger brother, Sylvester. At the age of 11, she enrolled in the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school founded by liberal-minded women from the northern United States. The school’s philosophy of self-worth was consistent with Leona McCauley’s advice to “take advantage of the opportunities, no matter how few they were.”
Opportunities were few indeed. “Back then,” Parks recalled in an interview, “we didn’t have any civil rights. It was just a matter of survival, of existing from one day to the next. I remember going to sleep as a girl hearing the Klan ride at night and hearing a lynching and being afraid the house would burn down.” In the same interview, she cited her lifelong acquaintance with fear as the reason for her relative fearlessness in deciding to appeal her conviction during the bus boycott. “I didn’t have any special fear,” she said. “It was more of a relief to know that I wasn’t alone.”
After attending Alabama State Teachers College, the young Rosa settled in Montgomery, with her husband, Raymond Parks. The couple joined the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People worked quietly for many years to improve the lot of African-Americans in the segregated south.
The bus incident led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. The boycott lasted 382 days and brought Parks, King, and their cause to the attention of the world. A U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.
Dr. Annette Jefferson, who is an Ohio Humanities Council Speaker and has presented Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman previously in Mount Vernon, will portray a fictional woman, Bea Black, who will discuss what it was like riding the bus with Park.
Opening for Jefferson will be The Harmony Brothers, consisting of Jeff Putnam on vocals and guitar and Duane Barber on vocals. The duo has also appeared on the Chautauqua stage and will present songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s by the likes of The Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles.
Jefferson and The Harmony Brothers will appear at ThePlace@TheWoodward, 111 S. Main Street, in downtown historic Mount Vernon, on Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. The event is free but donations are accepted.
For more information call 393-6102 or 392-3018. The entire 2011 series as well as past performers’ photos and directions can be found at www.elixirpresents.com.
Published on February 21, 2011