Rosa Parks, best known for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, vital to the Civil Rights movement, inspired many people of the past and her legacy continues to serve as inspiration for present and future generations. Although her she has become a household name for remaining seated, Parks’ activism goes beyond a bus seat. Her niece, Urana McCauley shares little known details about Parks’ life.
McCauley refuses to let her aunts legacy to be boiled down and transformed into a tale of simply being too tired to give up a bus seat. Parks, who worked for the NAACP was an active voice for black women, laying the groundwork for the impactful women’s rights movements of the present day. Provoked to pen this essay bout her late, great aunt following Oprah’s mentioning of Recy Taylor during her Golden Globe’s speech, McCauley says it is important for the stories of black women to be shared.
“I was excited when Oprah brought up Taylor’s story because people need to know these things happened to black women. It’s our history.”
The tragic story of Recy Taylor who was kidnapped and brutally raped by six white men in Alabama, may not be echoed enough. Taylor’s story was reported to the NAACP where Parks became the lead investigator on her case, fighting for justice. McCauley who says she often travels and does presentations regarding her aunt’s work remembers traveling with her to NAACP events in the 1990s and reality of the magnitude of Rosa Parks setting in.
“But, real talk, I didn’t realize who my aunt really was until I was 19-years-old in 1995 and she took me to a NAACP event. People were screaming at her like she was Michael Jackson.”
That NAACP event sparked McCauley’s interest in the Civil Rights Movement and she began to ask her Aunt Rosa Parks questions about the trauma endured by many black people of that era. Rosa Parks humility always remained in tact despite the reverance of her presence. McCauley, who often pays her respect by visiting the gravesite of Rosa Parks also celebrates her legacy by educating others on the depths of Parks fight for equal rights.
McCauley writes that Rosa Parks activism did not begin in her adult life yet was prevelant throughout her upbringing. She had even been warned by her grandmother at a young age that civil disobedience would possibly lead to harsh consequences such as lynching. McCauley writes about an encounter Parks had with a young white boy at the age of 10.
“When she was 10, a white boy pushed Auntie Rosa, and she pushed him back. Auntie Rosa’s grandmother told her, ‘You need to be quiet, you need to stop being so vocal.’ She was told as black people we’re not allowed to do those things to whites. Her grandmother was concerned that she’d get hurt, that she could even get lynched. But Auntie Rosa told her grandmother ‘Let them try to lynch me.”
That tenacious spirit carried from her youth well into adulthood. McCauley also shared what her Auntie Rosa was doing on that fateful day. She writes that Parks mistakenly got on the bus, which was driven by a driver she actively avoided. Her mind heavy, focusing on the death of Emmett Till, Parks did not realize whose bus she was on until it was too late. When told she needed to get up from her seat, Rosa Parks was feuled by anger as she sat firm in resistance.
Parks actions are celebrated historically but as the movement unfolded, not everyone, even other Black people, were on board. McCauley shared that Rosa Parks journaled about her arrest causing her to lose her seamstress jon, and being shunned by her black coworkers. McCauley also shared her aunt went through financial and health issues following the actions that began the bus boycott.
“People also dont know that my aunt went through a lot of financial hardships a fter what happened. She had health issues and developed ulcuers and couldnt afford the medication.”
McCauley is hopefull the namesake Rosa Parks is no longer synonomous with “little seamstress”. Read the full essay here.