Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, both African American women, are two giants of the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on 4 February 1913 and Coretta Scott was born on 27 April 1927 in Marion, Alabama.
Rosa McCauley attended the local one roomed school for black children whilst white children were taken by bus to a superior school for whites only. Rosa had to leave school in 1929 to look after her sick mother and grandmother. Unlike Rosa, Coretta was able to carry on her education and received a BA in music and education before going on to study in Boston for a second degree in voice and violin. It was whilst she was in Boston that she met Martin Luther King Jnr and they married in June 1953. They went on to have four children.
Rosa took a job in a shirt factory in Montgomery, Alabama and married Raymond Parks in 1932 who was an active member of the Montgomery chapter of NAACP. Encouraged by her husband, she got her High School degree in 1933 and also joined the NAACP. Rosa and Raymond did not have any children.
It was Rosa’s refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery on 1 December 1955 that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and reinvigorated the Civil Rights Movement. Her arrest and trail led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association and Martin Luther King Jnr, who had recently moved to Montgomery was chosen as its leader. The boycott went on for 381 days but was eventually successful in having Montgomery Bus Company lift the enforcement of segregation. By taking a stand, Rosa Parks pricked the conscience of the nation and started one of the largest and most successful movements against racial segregation in history. Coretta Scott King supported her husband in his work in Montgomery and took part in the boycott.
After Dr. King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, his widow took on his work and advocated non-violent campaigns for social change. Coretta Scott King widened her approach and took on numerous causes where equality and liberty were missing. These included racial an economic justice, women’s and children’s rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, the needs of the poor and homeless, full employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and environmental justice. She founded and ran the Martin Luther King Jnr Centre for Nonviolent Social Change which trained thousands of people in Dr. King’s philosophy. Coretta Scott King worked tirelessly for the rest of her life for these causes and often met with world leaders to press her case. She was equally at ease with ordinary working people. She was beside Nelson Mandela when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected President. She successfully campaigned to have Martin Luther King Day officially recognised.
Rosa Parks and her husband suffered for their activism as they both lost their jobs in the wake of the boycott. This led them to move to Detroit Michigan in search of work. Rosa continued to work in support of Civil Rights for the rest of her life and campaigned against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. On his release from prison, Nelson Mandela told her that her actions had sustained him during his incarceration. She founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in 1987 which sought to educate young people on important issues of equality and freedom. In February 2013, to mark the centenary of her birth, President Obama unveiled a statue of her in Statuary Hall in Washington DC. In his speech he said that it was the men and women of Montgomery that made it possible for him to be President of the USA.
Both these women are towering figures of the twentieth century. A simple act of brave disobedience by Rosa Parks changed America and changed the world. She has been called the mother of the Civil Rights Movement. Coretta Scott King, widowed at the age of forty and with four children, took on the mantle of her husband and was a woman of compassion, wisdom and vision who sought to make a better world.
Rosa Parks died in 2005 and Coretta Scott King in 2006. They were mourned by all who strive for justice and freedom throughout the world.
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