Long revered as a civil rights icon, Rosa Parks is best known for sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks’s refusal to move on that iconic bus was more than an act of racial justice. She understood that women were unsafe in the back of a bus; she refused to move as an act of resistance, knowing that sexual violence against Black women was pervasive and accepted by the mainstream culture.
Twelve years earlier, Rosa Parks had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Upon joining the NAACP, she focused on advocacy efforts for the Black community in Alabama, including efforts to make sure Black sexual violence survivors received their rightful day in court. Escaping her own attempted sexual assault by a white neighbor, she was once quoted as saying,
“ I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.”
Rosa Parks’s passion for justice in sexual violence cases brought her to Abbeville, Alabama in the fall of 1944. Recy Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped and assaulted by a group of men. When the NAACP learned of the incident, they sent Rosa Parks as an investigator. Segregation and white supremacy permeated every area of life in 1940’s Alabama, a milieu not unlike many other parts of our nation. When Rosa Parks found an unfriendly welcome in Abbeville, she drew on her own resilience and co-founded the Committee for Equal Justice for Ms. Recy Taylor. Rosa Parks played a large role in bringing national attention to the case, kindling the fire of civil rights around the nation. We can draw a direct line from Recy Taylor’s case to the Civil Rights Movement and then to the Me Too Movement. We owe a debt of gratitude to Rosa Parks in the role she played in both civil rights and justice for sexual violence survivors.
Mrs. Parks dedicated her life to activism and other social justice causes. On October 25, 2005 Mrs. Parks Passed away at the age of 92. May we honor her memory with each act to end sexual violence and each act to end racial injustice.