The “No” That Changed History

February 6th – just a few days ago – marked the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, the reform of the electoral system that finally allowed British women to vote, marking the historical moment where women were as much represented, and equally viewed in the eyes of the electoral law as men. This result was made possible only thanks to the determination and sacrifice of uncountable women who actively fought for their rights. Unfortunately, still nowadays women do not get much visibility for their courageous acts of rebellion against injustices of all sorts, acts that made huge steps in the advancements of human history. Thus, this article wants to remember one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century, if not of all time. Some people might have heard about her as “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” but most people simply know her by her name: Rosa Parks.

Her extraordinary story begins in 1913, in Alabama, a southern State where Jim Crow laws and racial segregation are in the norm. Rosa grows up in Montgomery in a world divided into “White” and “Colored,” belonging to the latter, lesser category. She drops out of school to go work as a seamstress for a shirt factory – place she hast to reach every day with the bus: “I'd see the bus pass every day... But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.” (Rosa Parks) In fact, busses at that time were segregated, so blacks had to get on and off the bus from the back door, sit in the back seats, and give priority to white people on the middle seats. Front seats were exclusively for whites.

Segregation in public spaces was a minor problem compared to the violence suffered from the members of the racist, radical movement of the Ku Klux Klan, who would threaten, persecute, hit, or kill black people and set their houses on fire. To end such injustices, Rosa Parks became an activist in the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but her activism did not stop there.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks changed the course of events with a simple but powerful “NO.” That morning, Rosa sat in the middle row of the bus that was taking her to work, and – at the rude orders of the bus driver to stand up from her seat – she plainly refused. After getting arrested and paying the bail to get out of jail, she decided to start something very hazardous – something inspired by the words of the new Reverend in town, a man named Martin Luther King Jr. – a boycott.

The bus boycott became the first concrete step that finally helped defeat racism in the southern states. With the help of some friends, Rosa started the boycott by handing out 35 thousand flyers the morning after her arrest asking every black Montgomery citizen not to take the bus on the following Monday, the day of the trial to which Rosa was subjected. The protest also found support from the new Reverend, Martin Luther King, a man who would later become one of the most influential leaders of all time, and remembered mostly for his I Have a Dream speech, which keeps inspiring people today. When Monday finally came, to Rosa’s big surprise, all busses that morning were fully empty. The boycott turned out to be a complete success. The bus boycott lasted much more than what was planned: it went on for over a year, until December 21, 1956. However, things kept being very hard for Rosa and the black citizens of Montgomery: people started losing their jobs, and the Ku Klux Klan’s violence got fiercer. Their ferocious acts started happening with more frequency than before, led by the fury of white racists. Nevertheless, Montgomery did not give up: the brave African American citizens continued the boycott, like soldiers to war, and it was their determination that led to its great success.

When, on December 20, 1965, the Supreme Court’s decision of abolishing the segregation on busses finally arrived, the whole African American community celebrated the victory; a small step that eventually led to big changes. Rosa Parks’ determination, courage, confidence, and strength made the difference for many people, making her an icon of freedom and inspiration for many. Her simple “No” started a series of events that eventually brought about a great success that we still celebrate today. Although many do not realize how important Rosa Parks is for the history of the United States and of Humanity, her help and bravery were essential for the changes occurred. She not only fought for Montgomery, but also for the rest of the world and the generations to come. Because of her admirable determination, her brave actions, and her strong “No,” Rosa Parks will always be remembered as a great woman who fought against racism, and achieved an important step towards civil rights.

Rosa Parks left this world in 2005, in her apartment, at 92 years old. Three years later, a black man was elected to be the first African American president of the United States. His name is Barack Obama.

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” – Rosa Parks

Monica Landoni

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