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Leadership from a different perspective – Rosa Parks

Naked Leader Week – 159 (w/c Monday 5 June 2006)

Leadership from a different perspective – Rosa Parks

 Many of you will know the story of Rosa Parks, the civil rights champion who refused to give up her seat to a white person, on a bus, in Alabama. Our daughter Olivia is studying the story in History at school, and when I revisited Rosa’s story last week, I asked myself a question that is not easy to answer:

If I had been on that bus, with Rosa, given the culture and laws and norms of that society, at that time, would I have supported her, or condemned her?

What would you have done?

With love to you all.



Rosa Parks (1913-2005) is famous for being the catalyst for a massive boycott in the southern US state of Alabama by African Americans, tired of a segregated public transport system. That boycott is seen as one of the key developments in the Civil Rights Movement.

Rosa Parks was the grand daughter of former slaves, and a seamstress by trade. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, she was arrested. The reason was because of where she was sitting on the bus. African Americans were required to pay their fares at the front of the bus, and then get off, then get back on through the back door. The white bus drivers had police powers. If they drove away before African American passengers were able to get back on the bus, there was nothing those passengers could do. At peak hours, the drivers changed markers segregating the bus, making fewer spaces for those in the “Colored Section” so that whites could be provided with seats.

Rosa took her seat in the front of the “Colored Section” of a Montgomery bus. When the driver asked Rosa and three other black riders to relinquish their seats to whites, Rosa refused (the others complied). The driver called the police, and she was arrested. There is a famous picture of her in the police station holding a prison number. Later that night she was released, after friends stood bail for $100. Rosa Parks was active in Montgomery’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

This single incident led from a bus boycott, to being one of the vehicles for the newly arrived Montgomery pastor, The Rev Martin Luther King to champion the cause of black people, and to a court ruling that  segregated seating on buses was unconstitutional, a decision later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was one of the first successful actions of the mass protest movement to challenge racial discrimination in 20th century America. Rosa Parks became widely known as “the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

One single action, by one single person, in one single moment…

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