On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks was ordered to give up her seat in the coloured section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, because the white section was full. Park’s actions and subsequent arrest for civil disobedience led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and became one of the key motifs of the civil rights movement.
Parks went on to become an internationally renowned campaigner against racial segregation, at the time of her arrest she was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and worked with the new minister in her town, one Martin Luther King Jr., to make great strides for black rights in America.
Whilst we should remember Rosa Parks every year, as well as those who were arrested before her for resisting segregation in Montgomery, such as Irene Morgan and Aurelia Browder, there is perhaps a particular poignancy in 2014 with the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and across America.
The deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice have highlighted the problems and divide that still exists in America, and that despite the great strides made by people of colour since Rosa Parks made her defiant stand almost 60 years ago, much still needs to be done.
We should also use this occasion to consider issues that exist within our own society, as it’s easy to condemn America whilst ignoring British issues. Last week a police officer was charged with racially aggravated assault after chasing an autistic man into his house and beating him whilst he was on the floor. In a video two police officers can be heard laughing at 33 year old Faruk Ali, who had gotten up early to help put the bins out, from the car because he was jogging, before one of the policemen began chasing him. They justified the attack by claiming he could have been a burglar or could have had a knife and only stopped when Mr Ali’s sister stepped between them. Instances such as this, coupled with the inherent racism in policies such as the MET’s stop and search program, show that much needs to be done in our country as well as in the U.S.
So today we should remember Rosa Parks and all those in the civil rights movement who were fundamental in combatting racism, but we should also recognise that their work is not finished and there is still a need to be extremely critical about our own society so progress can be made.
Photo credit: Ebony Magazine