As we embark on Black History Month here at Atlanta Black Star, we are going to take a unique look throughout the month at the heroes of the African Diaspora by celebrating their courage and their prophetic brilliance. We kick off the month this week by exploring iconic figures who uplifted black people with the strength and audacity of their moral clarity. These are individuals who took a principled stand, regardless of threats to their personal comfort, welfare or safety.
Born on Feb. 4, 1913, Rosa Parks would have celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday. On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the Civil Rights Movement.
Here are excerpts from letters and notes Rosa Parks wrote before and after her arrest for refusing to give up her seat.
The writings are part of a collection of Parks memorabilia that Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers is trying to sell to a museum or educational institution to preserve her legacy.
“I was only concerned with going home from my job and was completely taken by surprise when the bus driver demanded that we give up the seats. We had been taking those same seats even if some white and colored passengers were standing in the aisle.”
— Written Jan. 31, 1956, to an unidentified supporter, about her arrest
“I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore. … It is such a lonely, lost feeling. … The line between reason and madness grows thinner (due to the) horrible restrictiveness of Jim Crow laws.”
— Written in the mid- to late-1950s, apparently about the event that caused her arrest
“I would rather be lynched than live to be mistreated and not allowed to say, ‘I don’t like it.’ “
— Written around 1956 on the back of NAACP stationery
“I asked the policeman why we had to be pushed around? He said he didn’t know. ‘The law is the law. You are under arrest.’ Let us look at Jim Crow for the criminal he is and what he has done to one life multiplied millions of times over these United States.”
— Written in the mid- to late-1950s
“I asked for water. … As I was walking to the fountain, one officer said, ‘Git away from that fountain! You can’t get water in jail!’ I went back to the desk still very thirsty. Can you imagine how it feels to … be in hand’s reach of water and not be permitted to drink?”
— Written in the late 1950s about her arrest and jailing
“Trial Dec. 5. Fined $14.00… First mass meeting at the Holt St. Baptist Church. Estimate 5,000 present.”
— Written in December 1955 after her arrest
“We are really in the thick of it now. Rev. (Martin Luther) King’s home was bombed last night while we were in the First Baptist Church mass meeting. His wife and baby were in the house, but not hurt.”
— Written in a January 1956 letter to her brother, Sylvester McCauley
“Taxi cabs agreed to give rides for 10 cents. Get tough policy began by forcing cabs to charge 45 cents minimum. Several persons have been fired from their jobs for not riding the bus. Some for driving in the pool.”
— Written in 1956 during the Montgomery bus boycott
“The people have walked when they could not get rides in the most inclement weather. Many are still saying they will walk forever before they will go back to riding the bus under the same conditions. The drivers have made great sacrifices. They sometimes start without eating breakfast … wearing out their cars, bought at great sacrifice.”
— Written in early 1956 during the boycott
“We were interviewed and photographed for Life magazine last Thursday. … I hope you get a copy. … We were also on the Dave Garroway TV program ‘Today’ sometime ago.”
— Written Jan. 31, 1956, in a letter to her brother
“(The white man) worked hard to educate the Negro into believing that he was happier segregated, discriminated against, mistreated and humiliated. Such a good job of brainwashing was done on the Negro that a militant Negro was almost a freak of nature to them, many times ridiculed by others of his group.”
— Written in the mid-1950s to early 1960s, on her observations about life under Jim Crow laws.