An Act of Defiance and Core Values:
Remembering Rosa Parks As An Icon of Civil Rights
It was December, 1955. The media reported that Rosa Parks, a young and tired seamstress, returning home from work in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Although some of the media painted Ms. Park’s actions as “defiant,” the thrust of most stories was that she was simply tired after a long day’s work.
After her arrest, conviction and fine for breaking the bus segregation laws, we saw news reports about the subsequent 13-month bus boycott in Montgomery that arose out of Ms. Park’s apparently simple refusal to relinquish her seat. What we didn’t learn right away was that Rosa Parks was 40 years old, educated and experienced in the ways of segregation. She had unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote on several occasions and was active in her local NAACP. Her actions that day, apparently unplanned, were said to emerge from her frustration with the system that condemned her to second-class citizenship.
Rosa Parks, who died Oct. 24, became one of our country’s most revered icons surely not because she planned it that way. Most likely, she did not even consider the consequences of her refusal at the time although she must have known that such an act of defiance from a black woman would not be tolerated. Rosa Parks simply had “had it.” Yes, she was probably tired and angry and those feelings probably led her to stand her ground simply and without fanfare. Perhaps it was because Ms. Parks had little to lose. Perhaps she was simply fighting for her dignity. Her single act became the rallying point for the Civil Rights movement. This country has precious few icons like Rosa Parks.
CSA Executive Vice President Ernest Logan and I often talk about the role that core values play in our respective lives and how they influence our decisions at CSA. Without these core values, people and organizations easily get confused and lose their way. We can more readily understand the motivation of people like Rosa Parks who gain strength from their core values and refuse to be treated unfairly and without respect.
Most of us are old enough to remember the small, frail-looking woman with a huge smile who was singled out by Presidents and others for recognition at major events. Some of the younger CSA members may only remember her from history books, newspaper references and pictures, but many of us lived through the events of those tumultuous years, the turmoil and degradation, the fear and courage, the rage and the determination, the hoses and the dogs, the arms linked together, the battles fought to simply gain recognition and respect as citizens of this country. Yes, Rosa Parks became a symbol, an icon for dignity and civil rights. Her passing leaves us wondering whether we will see such a courageous figure in our lifetime.#
Jill Levy is President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.