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Rosa Parks, In Her Own Words: The Woman Who Challenged Segregation and Changed the World

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 15, 2024 3:00 am

Rosa Parks, In Her Own Words: The Woman Who Challenged Segregation and Changed the World

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 15, 2024 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the story of the woman who said "no" to giving up her seat on a segregated Alabama bus is widely known. But here to tell the raw, real story is Rosa Parks herself.

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See terms and conditions 18 plus. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next, the story of the American woman most well known for challenging segregation and on in the South. Here's Felicia Bell to tell the story. She's the director of the Rosa Parks Museum.

You'll also be hearing from Rosa Parks herself. Segregation was was an intense, rigid system of separating blacks and whites and I mean down to the cemeteries, down to the pages in the phone books were separated by black people and white people. So everything, every aspect of life, even in entrances to buildings, colored entrances were smaller doorways or lower steps, separate water fountains, separate facilities for everything. Every aspect of life was meant to keep black folks suppressed and oppressed. So the effects of segregation on Mr. and Mrs.

Parks was one that they witnessed among their friends. They saw how, for instance, she was not the first woman, black woman to be arrested. They saw other women in the community being harassed by these bus drivers. They saw, you know, the effects of children being harassed was just before her arrest was the Brown decision so desegregating public schools which did not immediately take place.

I left work on my way home December 1, 1955, about six o'clock in the afternoon. I boarded the bus downtown in Montgomery on Coates Square. As the bus proceeded out of town on the third stop, the white passengers had filled the front of the bus. When I got on the bus, the rear was filled with colored passengers and they were beginning to stand. The seat I occupied was the first of the seats where the Negro passengers take on this route.

The driver noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there would be two or three men standing. He looked back and asked that the seat where I had taken, along with three other persons, one in the seat with me and two across the aisle, was seated. He demanded the seat that we were occupying. The other passengers very reluctantly gave up their seats but I refused to do so. I want to make very certain that it is understood that I had not taken a seat in the white section as has been reported in many cases. The seat where I occupied, we were in the custom of taking this seat on the way home, even though at times on this same bus route, we occupied the same seat with white standing if their space had been taken up, the seats had been taken up. I was very much surprised that the driver at this point demanded that I remove myself from the seat. These bus drivers have policing powers, so they have firearms.

Sometimes these firearms actually went off on buses and they have policing power to have you arrested. So when he asked her to give up her seat, he was actually in the wrong because she was seated legally. That was a decision Mr. Blake made on his own to make her get out of her seat because she was not seated illegally. Six months or so prior to this moment, Mrs. Parks was at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and there was where she trained on civil disobedience and peaceful protest. They held integrated workshops and this was her first time in a classroom setting with white people and she quite enjoyed it. Maybe intimidated a little bit at first, but then she really enjoyed the sessions and that's where they trained and learned about how to resist segregation and unjust laws peacefully. So she was already trained in that. So when the driver told her to get out of her seat, she just simply said no. That was part of the training, to always assert yourself clearly and in simple terms. And then the driver said, if you don't get out of your seat, something to the effect, I'll have you arrested. And then she just said, you may do that. Which he did and when they came, they placed me under arrest and I was born, bailed out shortly after the arrest and the trial was held December 5th on the next Monday and the protest began from that day. I don't know why I wasn't, but I didn't feel afraid.

I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama. One misconception is that Mrs. Parks was tired when she got off of work and that's why she didn't give up her seat. She was not. She didn't not give up her seat because she was tired. She didn't give up her seat because she was resisting segregation.

And so when we say her feet were tired, it diminishes all it just erases all of that. And you've been listening to Felicia Bell, director of the Rosa Parks Museum and Rosa Parks herself, tell her story. I had to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being, even in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks said that's why she did what she did. She wasn't tired.

She was sick and tired. When we come back, more of Rosa Parks' story here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.

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See website for details. And we return to our American stories and to Felicia Bell, director of the Rosa Parks Museum. And we're picking up with Rosa Parks herself. I hadn't thought that I would be the person to do this.

It hadn't occurred to me. In our area, we always try to avoid trouble and be as careful as possible to stay out of trouble and along this line. The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. From the time of the arrest on Thursday night and Friday and Saturday and Sunday, the word had gotten around over Montgomery of my arrest because of this incident. And people just began to decide that they wouldn't ride the bus on the day of my trial, which was Monday, December 5th. And Monday morning, when the buses were out on the regular run, they remained empty and people were walking or getting rides and cars with people who had picked them up as best they could. On Monday night, the mass meeting at the whole St. Baptist Church had been called and there were many thousand people there. They kept coming and some people never did get in the church. There were so many. And the first day of remaining off the bus had been so successful. It was organized then that we wouldn't ride the bus until our request had been granted. The Montgomery Improvement Association met, had a mass meeting at whole St. Baptist Church and a young pastor of Dexter Avenue Church who was new in town and had a young family and a wife.

He was there as well and his name was Dr. Martin Luther King and he led the meeting. Since it happened, I'm happy that it happened to a person like Mrs. Paul. Nobody can doubt the boundless outreach of her integrity. Nobody can doubt the heart of her character. Nobody can doubt the depth of her Christian commitment and devotion to the teachings of Jesus.

And I'm happy since it has to happen. It happened to a person that nobody can call as a serving factor in the community. Mrs. Paul is a fine Christian person, I'm assuming, yet having integrity and character there. And just because she refused to get off, she was arrested. You know my friends, I come to times when people get tired of being taken over by the arid feet of oppression. At this mass meeting also they decided what demands they wanted out of this, what would be a boycott, a 382 day boycott. So one of those demands was to be treated with respect as passengers. Then also they wanted African American men to be hired as bus drivers on city buses. So that was actually a job for white men.

Black men couldn't be bus drivers. So that was one of their demands. And thirdly, they wanted first come first serve seating on buses. I feel they kept on walking because I was not the only person who had been mistreated and humiliated.

Others had gone through the same experience, some even worse experience than mine. And they all felt that the time had come that they should decide that we would have to stop supporting the bus company until we were given better service. All four seasons of weather, walking in the rain and the cold and the heat, taking carpools and there were all kinds of obstacles in terms of taxis being banned or insurance companies not insuring taxis so they couldn't have taxi services. So they set up a system of pickup locations through the city and you could catch a ride in what were called rolling churches. So these were station wagons with the names of churches on the side of them where the churches sponsored that station wagon. And then you would be picked up and then rather than paying that driver, which that would make it a taxi and illegal, you would just put money in the offering of a church on Sunday that was on the side of the vehicle.

So then that way that money paid for the gas and the maintenance and the driver and that. So there was strategy involved with the protest and they met frequently. It wasn't just we're not going to ride the buses.

There was a lot of strategy involved in the process in making it successful. We are here this evening because we are party of God. I must assume that we are not here advocating violence. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only way that we have our hands this evening is a weapon of justice. There would be nobody made to learn us who would stand up and defy the constitution of this nation. We only assemble here because of our desire to be righteous.

For Mrs. Parks, how did it happen to become the kind of religious movement it became? Or at least we seem to understand it as a kind of a religious movement. There is the talking of walking and praying. There is the whole appeal to the religious peaceful aspects and of course a number of ministers have taken a very active part in the leadership. How did this come about?

I think this came about because the ministers were very much interested in it and we had meetings in the churches. And we felt that nothing could be gained by violence or threats or belligerent attitude. We believe that more could be accomplished through the nonviolent passive resistance. We had no quarrel with anyone.

We only want to stop riding the buses until we are treated as any other passenger. You know really the civil rights movement in general I think you could say was largely led by people who were very faith conscious. You know from Dr. King on down. There were many people, clerical members who were leaders in the movement. In general I think the sense of faith and the principles of Christianity I think is what shaped the nonviolent civil rights movement.

And a terrific job on the production, editing and storytelling by our own Madison Derricotte. And a special thanks to Felicia Bell, director of the Rosa Parks Museum. And it was so good to hear from Rosa Parks herself and a very young pastor at the time of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

He would become the Martin Luther King we all know. But there he was young and leading and leading the Christian way. And that was demanding, commanding that we do it Jesus' way. And that is the nonviolent way. And as Rosa Parks also added, belligerence wasn't going to get us anywhere. And my goodness the role the church has served, shuttling people back and forth from work. How was one to get from here to there in a city without getting on its bus or buses? And this was a year long bus boycott and without the role of the church playing not only a spiritual part but also a logistics part, a strategic part. Again, the role of faith in this country can never, ever be underestimated. The story of Rosa Parks, the woman who took on segregation, here on Our American Stories.

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