This #GivingTuesday, Common Change is taking the opportunity to remember a woman who boldly challenge the status quo of her day. Rosa Parks writes “I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it any more.” On the evening of Dec. 1, 1955, when bus driver James Blake ordered her to give up her seat to a white passenger and she refused. Blake chose not simply to evict her from the bus, as he had done in the past, but to have her arrested. Calling attention to the larger power in the system, Parks questioned the arresting officers, “Why do you push us around?” One officer answered back “I don’t know but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”
Jeanne Theoharis writes the following in her article for the Washington Post.
Repeatedly in her writings, Parks underscored the difficulties in mobilizing in the years before her bus protest: “People blamed [the] NAACP for not winning cases when they did not support it and give strength enough.” She found it demoralizing, if understandable, that in the decade before the boycott “the masses seemed not to put forth too much effort to struggle against the status quo,” noting how those who challenged the racial order like she did were labeled “radicals, sore heads, agitators, trouble makers.” Indeed, Rosa Parks was red-baited and received death threats and hate mail for years in Montgomery and in Detroit for her movement work.
Though the righteousness of her actions may seem self-evident today, at the time, those who challenged segregation — like those who challenge racial injustice today — were often treated as unstable, unruly, and potentially dangerous by many white people and some black people. Her writings show how she struggled with feeling isolated and crazy, before and even during the boycott. In one piece of writing, she explained how she felt “completely alone and desolate as if I was descending in a black and bottomless chasm.”
Let’s continue the tradition of challenging the status quo.
Read, How history got the Rosa Parks story wrong