Historical Fact: Women before Rosa Parks

Michaela Procházková

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” These are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., a black activist who fought alongside other leaders and thousands of people of both races for the rights and equality of black inhabitants of the United States of America.

To be an Afro-American living in the USA in the middle of the 20th century was not easy. Even so many years after the abolishment of slavery, black citizens did not have the same rights as their white counterparts. Segregation was still part of everyday life. Equality was as scarce as hen’s teeth in those days. At that time, certain Afro-American movements wanted to acquire the same rights for blacks as for whites. The right to vote was paramount, because without it, there was no chance for a black man to stand for election, which meant that nobody would care for the rights of the Afro-American community. Knowing this, some Afro-American people went down in history fighting for their rights and those of their fellows. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and many other famous people played greater and lesser parts in changing the future for the Afro-American citizens of the United States of America.

So who was Rosa Parks?

Rosa Parks was an activist and a member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). She became famous at the age of 42 (Biography.com Editors, n/a) because she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger (which she was supposed to do, as black people had to stand up if a white person wanted to sit down) on a Montgomery city bus on December 1, 1955. “Over the next half-century, Parks became a nationally recognized symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end entrenched racial segregation” (History.com Staff, 2009).

The story of Rosa Parks is well-known, and many people might think that she was the only lady who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. It might come as a surprise to some people that she was not the only woman who did not do what a white person demanded of her.

“Young people think Rosa Parks just sat down on a bus and ended segregation, but that wasn’t the case at all.” This is what Claudette Colvin, a women who refused to give up her seat on a bus before Parks, said in an interview for The New York Times in 2009 (Barnes, 2009). As the previous sentence suggests, Rosa Parks was not the only woman who rejected the idea of giving up her seat. There were five women before her: Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith, Susie McDonald and Jeanette Reese. These women were “originally included in the federal court case, filed on February 1, 1956 as Browder v. Gayle (1956), and testified before the three-judge panel that heard the case in the United States District Court (Jeanette Reese withdrew from the case due to intimidation from the white community)” (Heyward, 2013). However, black leaders did not consider these women the right ones with which to a court case. They all had some problems in their lives (Barnes, 2009).

Claudette Colvin, for example, was only fifteen years old when she refused to give up her seat, and soon after that she became pregnant. That was the reason why she was not a ‘chosen one’ (Kramer, 2015).

Similarly, Mary Louise Smith was not seen as a reliable person either, because her father was said to be an alcoholic (Heyward, 2013).

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she was seen as the right person with whom the leaders could start their protest against segregation (History.com Staff, 2010).

“Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time,” said Lyndon B. Johnson. This statement is a fair summary of the topic of this article. The actions of the African-American movement opened the gateway to freedom for black people, but we can never know when the gate might be closed, not only for blacks but for any ‘group’ of people in the world.

Many human beings needed to die, to be killed, to be murdered before people’s minds were changed. But most probably people like Emmett Till and Rosa Parks helped others to realize the dreadful situation the world was in at that time was.

History cannot be changed, but understanding the threats of the past can help us to make a better future.



Barnes, B. (2009): From Footnote to Fame in Civil Rights History, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/26/books/26colvin.html?_r=1 on 2017-11-10

Biography.com Editors (n/a): Rosa Parks Biography.com, retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/rosa-parks-9433715 on 2017-11-10

Heyward, E. R. (2013): Four Women, Unsung Heroines of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, retrieved from http://www.mfsasr.com/from-the-editor/four-women-unsung-heroines-of-the-montgomery-bus-boycott on 2017-11-10

History.com Staff (2009): Rosa Parks, retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks on 2017-11-10

History.com Staff (2010): Montgomery Bus Boycott, retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/montgomery-bus-boycott on 2017-11-10

Houck, D. W. (2005): From Money to Montgomery; Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, and the Freedom Movement, 1955 – 2005, Rhetoric & Public Affairs 8(2), 175-176. Michigan State University Press, retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/rhetoric_and_public_affairs/v008/8.2houck01.pdf on 2017-11-10

Kramer, S. K. (2015): Before Rosa Parks, A Teenager Defied Segregation On An Alabama Bus, retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/27/389563788/before-rosa-parks-a-teenager-defied-segregation-on-an-alabama-bus on 2017-11-10