Rosa Parks was not only an influential figure in her own time, she also contributed to a fundamental change in US society.
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born in the state of Alabama on February 4, 1913. She was born into a society where segregation of colored people was common in many everyday activites. It could be separate sections in buses, separate schools, rest rooms and drinking fountains. During the 1950s more and more people realized how unreasonable this system was, and civil disobedience proved an effective method to achieve a change. At the age of 42, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person, even though the bus driver commanded her to do so. This took place in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks was arrested, an event that ignited the sparks of discontent, and resulted in a massive bus boycott in Montgomery. This boycott lasted until December 20, 1956, when the US Supreme Court decided that laws allowing segregated buses were unconstitutional. Numerous other activists protested in the same way as Rosa Parks did, but she became one of the front figures in the Civil Rights Movement. She collaborated with leaders in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), among them Martin Luther King Jr. Later in life Rosa Parks moved to Detroit, and died there in 2005. She received several honorary rewards for her efforts and influence.
- Imagine that the man in the picture (column to the right) is Rosa Parks' grandson. He has been asked to give a 15 minute lecture at a New York high school about his grandmother. Write his manuscript, and explain why you chose the events and facts you did.
- On a plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is a poem by Emma Lazarus. Some of the lines go as follows:
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
These lines welcome newcomers of all kinds to the USA, but as we see from the segregation policy in the 1950s, there is a huge gap between theory and practice. In what way can Rosa Parks be characterized as a "Lady Liberty" for the Colored People? Write an article where you consider this, and also show how civil disobedience can be a "lifted lamp".
- On the picture in the column to the right you see the hands of a Norwegian school class, traveling by subway in New York. How would the picture change if there was one colored hand placed in between all the white? Write down your reflections.
- The voices of the civil rights activists were scattered and rare in the beginning, but became a more and more unanimous and strong choir as the years passed. Pretend that you are in Montgomery in 1956, right after the segregation laws have been declared unconstitutional. Set up a class debate between two groups, one side is the white authorities protesting against this Supreme Court decision, the other side Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists who are happy about it, and see more victories ahead. Do some research, and try to find as realistic arguments as possible before you start your debate.
- Look up facts about NAACP. Choose 5-7 important events in the history of the organization, and give reasons for your choices. Walk around in class to compare and discuss your priorities with some of your fellow students.
- Langston Hughes is one of the most influential colored writers. Look up some facts about him, and find out why he became so important. Langston Hughes – The African American Poet
- Read the poem by Langston Hughes called "Harlem" or "A Dream Deferred" here. Write an analysis of the poem, and link the theme(s) to what you know about civil rights activism.
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