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Rosa Parks and the visionary organizers of Montgomery, Ala.

JoAnn Robinson and Rosa Parks

JoAnn Robinson and Rosa Parks

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Rosa Parks, “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement,” was born Rosa Louise McCauley 100 years ago on Feb. 4, 1913.

Her Centennial was celebrated last week at many events, including the unveiling of a special stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

Most celebrations focused on Rosa’s courage, saying little or nothing about the Montgomery women whose visionary organizing of the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the civil rights movement.

Their story is told in “The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It,” the memoir of Professor JoAnn Gibson Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council (WPC), which had been waiting for the perfect symbol around which to organize a boycott against the racially abusive bus system.

Within two hours of Parks’ arrest on Friday afternoon, Dec. 1, 1955, the WPC had blanketed the city with 50,000 “Don’t ride the bus” leaflets and was busy organizing the boycott.

Special committees were set up, the main one focusing on transportation.

To keep people off buses, an alternative means of transportation was created. Hundreds of volunteer cars had to be contacted and pooled and donations determined through cooperative means. Routes were mapped out to get workers to all parts of the city. Regular bus routes were followed so workers who “walked along” the streets could be picked up.

The pickup system was so effectively planned that many writers described it as comparable in precision to a military operation.

The women’s organizing was so visionary that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was more than a movement for civil rights. It was also, as Danielle McGuire penned in “At the Dark End of the Streee: Black Women, Rape and Resistance,” “a woman’s movement for dignity, respect and bodily integrity.”

It was so solutionary that by the fall of 1956, a United States Supreme Court decision declared Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.

Contact Grace Lee Boggs at

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