A glimpse from 1966: Rosa Parks was a very unusual person. Her personal history, and her moral development, are very much worth exploring.
When she died in 2005, she lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building, just the thirty-first person so honored. Why exactly did that happen? At the same time, broadcasters tried to give us glimpses of who she had actually been.
On NPR’s All Things Considered, Melissa Block and Robert Siegel played a fascinating piece of tape from 1966. Mrs. Parks had been interviewed on KPFA, an NPR member station:
BLOCK (10/25/05): Rosa Parks died last night at the age of 92. Her refusal that day to comply with racial segregation led to the Montgomery bus boycott. It was a seminal event in the civil rights movement, a single, quiet act of defiance.Siegel was asking an excellent question. Others had been beaten, even killed, for failing to obey the orders of bus drivers in Montgomery. According to Mrs. Parks, she had decided that she would have to know, once and for all, what rights she had as a human being and a citizen.
(Audiotape of 1966 interview)
MRS. PARKS: The driver said that if I refused to leave the seat, he would have to call the police. And I told him, “Just call the police,” which he did. And when they came, they placed me under arrest.
INTERVIEWER: Wasn't that a pretty frightening thing, to be arrested in Montgomery, Alabama?
MRS. PARKS: No, I wasn't frightened at all.
INTERVIEWER: You weren't frightened?
MRS. PARKS: No.
INTERVIEWER: Why weren't you frightened?
MRS. PARKS: I don't know why I wasn't, but I didn't feel afraid. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen even in Montgomery, Alabama.
(End of audiotape from 1966)
SIEGEL: The death of Rosa Parks brings to mind some questions: What makes some people stand up against injustice while others who might be more obvious candidates for courage don't?
She paid a very hard price for her act in the next dozen years. This is a part of her story which is rarely told.
“Congressman Lewis, what do you think it was about Rosa Parks that led her to take that act of civil disobedience?” That was Siegel’s first question to his guest, Rep. John Lewis.
Siegel was asking an excellent question. Before the week is done, we’ll show you what Lewis said.