“We must have courage—determination—to go on with the task of becoming free—not only for ourselves, but for the nation and the world—cooperate with each other.
Have faith in God and ourselves.”
– Rosa Parks
This October, Fletchers Solicitors is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting influential Black people who have helped shape the world we live in today. We’ve assigned a cross-departmental team across all specialisms at Fletchers, so that we can do our own research and continually educate ourselves on Black history.
The third blog in this series is a piece researched and written by Olivia Gerrard, Trainee Solicitor.
The story of Rosa Parks
Tired of giving in
On 1st December 1955, Rosa Parks finished her work as a seamstress and boarded the Cleveland Ave bus to head home. When asked to give up her seat for a white passenger, Ms Parks courageously refused to do so. People were led to believe that the reason she did not give up her seat was due to being physically tired. Ms Parks wrote in her autobiography; ‘That isn’t true, I was not tired physically…. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.’
Even when Ms Parks was threatened with the possibility of being arrested, she remained determined. Withholding her demeanour, she simply responded; ‘You may do that.’ Ms Parks was arrested the same day and on December 5, she was found guilty of violating segregation laws and given a suspended sentence and fine.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Her arrest triggered a vast civil rights movement which led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA was formed by Black ministers and community leaders in Montgomery. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr, the MIA was instrumental in guiding the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
As part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, members of the African American community were asked to stay off city buses on the day of the Parks trial – Monday, December 5, 1955 – in protest of her arrest. People were encouraged to stay home from work or school, take a cab or walk to work. The MIA had hoped for a 50 percent support rate among African Americans. To their surprise and delight, 99 percent of the city’s African Americans refused to ride the buses. People walked to work or rode their bikes, and carpools were established to help the elderly. The bus company suffered thousands of dollars in lost revenue and the MIA had made more of an impact than they ever expected.
An international symbol of human dignity
The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days. The combination of legal action, backed by the unrelenting determination of the African American community, made the Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation history; all of which was triggered by the courageous actions of Ms Parks.
The Boycott ended with a Supreme Court ruling segregation on public transit to be unconstitutional. Most ironically, Ms Parks’ case still remains unreported and it is believed that despite the ruling, the charges were not dropped against her.
Ms Parks’ principled defiance established her as an international symbol of human dignity and freedom. She was given many awards and honours including more than forty doctoral degrees from universities. Perhaps the most potent award was that in 1999. Ms Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal from President Clinton, as recognition for her contributions to the nation as the ‘first lady of civil rights’ and ‘mother of the freedom of movement’. The medal is the highest honour bestowed on a civilian in the United States.
A continued legacy
After Ms Parks’ death, aged 92 on 24 October 2005, her body lay in honour at the U.S Capitol Rotunda. She was the first woman who was ever given that distinction. Her legacy continues to live on, and her courageous actions continue to inspire generations.
A quiet exemplification of courage, dignity, and determination; Rosa Parks was a symbol to all to remain free.
The story of Marcus Rashford
A Government U-Turn
Marcus Rashford, 22, received an honorary degree when he forced a Government U-turn following his campaign against child poverty. The move further promoted discussion around racial and social responsibility.
2020 has undoubtedly consisted of many surprises. If one was to take their mind back to the start of June, just a few months ago, the UK at that point was only starting very slowly to relax measures and move out of national lockdown. It was at that time when, in my view, one of the most positive and far-reaching news stories emerged since the start of this global health pandemic, from perhaps one of the most surprising sources.
I think it is fair and reasonable to assume that not many people would associate a political campaign against child poverty with a young but very talented Manchester United and England footballer.
However, at 22 years old, Marcus Rashford recently became the youngest ever recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Manchester, as he successfully campaigned to allow approximately 1.3 million children in England to claim free school meal vouchers during the then pending school summer holidays. In doing so, he also forced the British Government into a high profile “U-turn”.
A political campaign against child poverty
During the national lockdown, Marcus, from Wythesnawe in Manchester, teamed up with the poverty and food waste charity, FareShare. The collaboration has led to £20 million being raised in financial and food donations enabling 3.9 million meals to be distributed to the country’s most vulnerable every week during the Global COVID-19 pandemic.
On 15 June, Marcus took responsibility to push the campaign forward even further, by writing a heartfelt open letter to the UK Government. He next followed up his message with a high-profile publicity and social media campaign drawing on his own personal experiences of using food banks and after school clubs growing up in Manchester.
A genuine lifeline for the most vulnerable
Despite the return of the premier league (behind closed doors) at the start of June, Marcus continued to campaign for those most vulnerable across the UK, and eventually Prime Minister Boris Johnson recognised and praised his “contribution to the debate around poverty”, and so extended the scheme over the entire school summer holiday period. That support programme in England worked out approximately £15.00 a week per recipient, with a total cost of circa £120 million.
As a striker with a killer instinct in front of goal, the humble Premier League footballer cut straight through a nervous defensive wall of Government ministers, leaving them wrong-footed and facing an embarrassing own goal.
Plainly, during a very challenging period for those most vulnerable in our society, it was very positive (and also surprising) that Marcus Rashford used his profile as a leading sportsman to force through important changes in child poverty and social responsibility. A role model to all.