'If a Bus Could Talk'

Story Time

February 06, 2000|By Faith Ringgold

Editor's note: This biography of Rosa Parks -- an African-American woman and civil rights worker in Montgomery, Ala. -- is told from the point of view of the bus where she refused to give up her seat. The ensuing boycott lasted more than a year.

One fateful day (December 1, 1955), Mrs. Parks took this very bus home from work. The bus driver, whose name was James Blake, told Mrs. Parks to get up and give her seat to a white man. There were other black people sitting in the same section and all of them would have to get up so that the white man could sit down. Rosa knew that the segregation laws were unfair and, right then and there, she decided to do something about it. She told the driver that she would not give up her seat.

When Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat, Blake called the police and had her arrested and taken to jail for breaking the segregation laws.

When Mr. E.D. Nixon, the head of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, heard of Mrs. Parks's arrest, he paid her bail and she was released. He asked her to help with a boycott to change the segregation laws. Rosa was happy to be a part of a city-wide effort to end segregated buses. Mr. E.D. Nixon also asked the Women's Political Council and the town's black ministers to help organize and promote what came to be known the world over as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

For 381 days -- more than a year -- black people in Montgomery either walked or arranged their own car pools instead of taking the buses. Without the black passengers, the buses were almost empty, and the city lost a lot of money. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was working!

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the beginning of a national movement in which people of every race organized protests against segregation in their own towns. The boycotts spread to department stores, where black people were not allowed to return articles of clothing they had bought, or to try on clothes before buying them.

Mrs. Parks's case finally reached the highest court in our land, and on November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was against the law. A little more than a month later the boycott ended. Black people no longer had to ride in the back of the bus, but the struggle for equal rights was not over. Rosa lost her 25-dollar-a-week job at the Montgomery Fair department store, and she continued to receive threatening phone calls and letters.

A year later Rosa and Raymond Parks moved to Detroit, where Rosa worked for Congressman John Conyers of Michigan. There she was able to help homeless people find decent housing, jobs and community service.

Many tributes and awards have been given to this gentle, courageous woman. A bronze bust of Mrs. Parks is installed at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. She was awarded the Spingarn Medal, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize, the Eleanor Roosevelt Woman of Courage Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mrs. Parks has received countless honorary degrees, plaques and honors for her valiant act of courage and unceasing dedication to freedom. But what this old bus is proudest of is that Cleveland Avenue, the street this bus ran on, has been renamed Rosa Parks Boulevard.

Excerpted from the book IF A BUS COULD TALK. Copyright c 1999 by Faith Ringgold. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.

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