National Figure Memorialized


Rosa Parks is somewhat of a national and international figure. In 1955, she refused to give up her seat and move to the back of a Montgomery Ala. bus. That symbolically huge act of defiance by a physically small woman was a pivotal moment in the movement against segregation.

Her single act of civil disobedience sparked a national movement, which has resulted in numerous legislation changes that affect the world today.

The Washington National Cathedral has decided to honor Rosa Parks with a granite statue, located in the human rights section of the cathedral, dedicated to those who struggled for social justice and equality. Other figures in this section include former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

The unveiling of her statue took place in early May, not long after the historic statue of Dr. Martin Luther King was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, overlooking the Tidal Basin.

The event includes an evening of prayer and song.

History of her struggle

Rosa Parks is considered an icon in the civil rights movement for her refusal to give up her Montgomery, Ala., bus seat to a white passenger in 1955 is considered a key moment in the movement against segregation. However, little know that Parks wasn’t the intended representative for this act of civil disobedience.

Claudette Colvin, born September 5, 1939 first refused to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated Montgomery bus. Her incident proceeded Parks’ by nine months. She was only a 15-year-old teenage high school student. Black leaders of the movement did not publicize her arrest and civil disobedience because she later became pregnant while unmarried and thought the negative attention would not be positive for the movement.

Colvin was a student at Booker T. Washington School and was returning home from school on March 2, 1955 when she boarded the Capital Height bus in downtown Montgomery. When she refused to give up her seat, police were called to the scene and Colvin was handcuffed and taken to the city jail, where she was charged with disorderly conduct, violating the segregation ordinance and assault and battery, presumably because she clawed the officers with her long fingernails.

Soon after her arrest, however, Colvin became pregnant by a much older, married man. Local black leaders felt that this moral transgression would not only scandalize the deeply religious black community, but also make Colvin suspect in the eyes of sympathetic whites. In particular, they felt that the white press would manipulate Colvin’s illegitimate pregnancy as a means of undermining Colvin’s victim status and any subsequent boycott of the bus company. Colvin was also allegedly prone to emotional outbursts and cursing. She was ultimately sentenced to probation for the ordinance violation, but a boycott and legal case never materialized from the event.

Some historians have argued that civil rights leaders, who were predominately middle class, were uneasy with Colvin’s lower class background. Indeed, before Colvin, the NAACP had considered and rejected several protesters deemed unsuitable or unable to withstand the pressures of cross-examination during a legal challenge to racial segregation laws.


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