Rosa Parks And Civil Disobedience

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December 1, 1955, a young semester by the name of Rosa Parks got onto the bus after a long day of work at a local department store. She avoids the section that is labeled “Whites Only” and sits down in the middle section of the bus; where she was permitted as long no White person was not standing. Soon after some time, the “White Only” section gets filled up and the bus driver tells all those in Rosa’s section to move to the back of the bus. Everyone gets up and moves except Rosa; who says no and refuses to give up her seat for a White person. After minutes of the bus driver shouting at Rosa to get up, he gets frustrated and proceeds to stop the bus and go get a police officer. Soon after, Rosa Parks was arrested and taken off the bus for breaking segregation laws. Over half a century later, this single moment is still influential and talked about. Rosa Park took an act of civil disobedience to ensure spark a change for social and racial injustice. Merriam Webster defines civil disobedience as” (Civil Obedience N/A). refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government”. Civil disobedience is a necessary evil in our society and often what is needed to ensure right is done by. Sophocles shares this similar theme in the book Antigone, in which he shows how civil disobedience is played out through the main character. Though condemned by society and its ruler, over time civil disobedience is what shows society what they have been missing the whole time.

Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913 then soon after her parents separated, her family moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa attended high school at the Alabama State Teachers’ College for Negroes but was soon forced to pause at age 16 to provide care for her sick grandmother and soon after her mother as well. By the age of 19, she got married to a man by the name of Raymond Parks, who was an NAACP activist and local barber in the community. Though the abolishment of slavery was nearly half a century before Rosa was born, racism had not abolished itself. The era in which Rosa Parks lived through was filled with social injustice, segregation, racial description. The Jim Crow laws were enacted and practically allowed for racism to occur legally. Jim Crow laws were legal segregation laws that separated blacks and whites. These laws affected almost every aspect of their life, even the simplest things such as where to stand were segregated. Examples of the effects were; blacks could attend only certain (inferior) schools, could drink only from specified water fountains, could borrow books only from the “black” library, among other restrictions” (History N/A). These laws were even evident in the incident Rosa Parks experience on the bus. The Montgomery bus had segregated each bus boy who was allowed to sit in each section. The front was for white citizens and the seat behind was for blacks or colored people. These segregation laws caused many challenges for non-white people to become successful.

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Little did Rosa Park know when she said the word “no” to the bus driver, that single moment would influence many those around the nation. This small form of civil disobedience caused a ripple effect in society. It urged others to not allow the same civil injustice for black people and take action in their communities. Soon after Rosa Park's arrest, the Montgomery bus boycott took effect in hopes to change segregation laws on the bus. Local organizations formed civil organizations such as the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to support and sustain the boycott and the legal challenge to the segregation laws” (Encyclopedia). Soon after, another influential civil rights activist by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. became president of this organization. After over a year of effort, on June 5, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation laws on the bus would be considered unconstitutional. This goes to show though what Rosa Parks did was considered “unlawfully” a necessary evil such as an act of civil disobedience was needed to show others why the current state of things is unjust in itself. Furthermore, her influence went beyond the abolishment of that bus segregation law. She influences many other civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Johnnie Carr, leaders of the Black Panther Party, and many more. She later also became known as the mother of the Civil Rights Movement and her legacy still carries on to this day.

Centuries before Rosa Parks, there was another revolutionary woman who took committed civil disobedience. Antigone was written around 442 BCE by a Greek philosopher named Sophocles. Born into an Athens family of a wealthy merchant, he lived a life of comfortability. He gained a formal education and began studying all of the arts. Throughout his lifetime, he wrote many plays that were known for their ability to abolish trilogy form. Sophocles also effected a transformation in the spirit and significance of a tragedy; thereafter, although religion and morality were still major dramatic themes, the plights, decisions, and fates of individuals became the chief interest of Greek tragedy. One of his most notable writings was the story of Antigone. The story begins with Oedipus who killed his father to gain rule of the kingdom, who then later impregnates his mother and has Antigone. After some time, Oedipus decides to feel the kingdom and leaves his family. This left Antigone and her sister Ismene to be raised by Creon; which was Antigone’s uncle. The first conflict that occurs is the brutal war between Antigone’s brother; Polynices and Eteocles for the power of the kingdom. This war results in both brothers dying in each other’s hands. Creon believes that it was only just that Eteoleces would be honored with a proper burial while Polynices would be left to rot because he was a traitor. The issue arises when Antigone tells Ismene that Polynices should receive the same treatment and be buried respectfully because he is her brother too. Ismene, however; claims that she must obey the orders of Creon regardless of what she believes is right or wrong. Antigone ignores all of this and buries him anyway. Creon; though hesitant first, won’t accept this and tells Antigone that she will put to death because she disobeyed the order. Later on, Creon is approached by Teireais, a prophet who tells him that the gods are unhappy in the treatment of Polynices. He ends up convincing him that the will of the gods will surpass all man-made laws. However, all efforts were too late because Antigone ends up killing herself later on anyways.

Antigone was considered a revolutionary in this story because she believed the laws were unfair. When confronted about the situation by Creon, he asks her “And yet you dared to violate these laws?” She responded by saying “What laws? I never heard it was Zeus. [450] Who made that announcement. And it wasn’t justice, either. The gods below didn’t lay down this law for human use. If I die young, all the better; people who live in misery like mine are better dead. So if that’s the way, My life will end, the pain is nothing. But if I let the corpse, my mother’s son lies dead, unburied. That would be agony. This way, no agony for me. But You! You think I’ve been a fool? It takes a fool to think that” (Morgan 51). Antigone believed that whatever law stood before her would not stop her from what she thought was justice. Though this could have resulted in her death, she believed she would rather die knowing she did right than let justice be undealt with. This would later show others how if a person is willing to die for a cause it shows others that injustice may have really occurred. It opened the eyes for others and to actually critically think for themselves rather than what the state tells you. Oftentimes, our moral obligation is higher than the rule of law and you must defy authority to show that the law itself is not fair and must be altered. Unlike Antigone, Ismene became submissive to power regardless of her own moral judgment. Though seen as a rebel, Antigone’s actions are symbolic because they show social decency, moral obligation family loyalty, and respect for the dead.

Both Rosa Park and Antigone choose natural law over political power. Knowing that going against the rule’s order and not giving up your seat for a white person would result in being condemned by the state, they both still acted on it. Ultimately, Antigone believed that her action of morality would come over divine laws. Civil disobedience is a form of resistance that shows those in authority, society will not allow it to happen. If you allow unjust to happen, you are no better than the perpetrator himself.

One of the greatest interpersonal conflicts humans will encounter is the struggle between morality and law. Though presumably if you live in a sovereign state, you obey all of the laws; however, one can’t always be right. Though problematic, civil disobedience is an evil necessity in society. Imagine, a life without civil disobedience. Slavery, segregation, no same-sex marriage, or even going back as far as the Boston Tea Party as well. If we let others answer and choose everything in our lives, humans wouldn’t be able to think for themselves. Authority should be respected, however; oftentimes civil disobedience is needed to get a point across. With democracy, you will be punished and condemned for your actions, but you will also influence others to think another way. If Rosa Parks had never refused to give up her seat, segregation and discrimination could still be legal. Those who commit civil disobedience shouldn’t be frowned upon, they should be remembered for their bravery. They did what others couldn’t. As Martin Luther King Jr. said best “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”  

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