Wineskins Archive

February 4, 2014

The Civil Rights Movement Begins (May-Jun 1998)

Filed under: — @ 12:18 am and

by Fred D. Gray
May – June, 1998

Excerpted from Bus Ride to Justice, pages 36-73, by Fred D. Gray, lawyer for Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and many other Civil Rights causes. Published by The Black Belt Press, Montgomery, AL. Copyright 1995 by Fred. D. Gray.

32During the early months of my law practice, I had few clients and little to do …. Since I was interested in civil rights and politics, I started attending the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) meetings. Rosa Parks was the secretary to the Montgomery Branch of the NAACP and also served as youth director …. Mrs. Parks was very kind, quiet, gentle, loving and would never hurt anyone. She was and is one of the kindest and loveliest persons that one would want to meet. She still maintains these qualities almost forty years later ….

December 1, 1955, was a typical day in Montgomery. It was late fall, but it had not begun to get cold. [Mrs. Parks and I] had lunch together that day, just as we had done many times before …. Mrs. Parks went back to her work as a seamstress. I continued my work and left the office in the early afternoon for an out-of-town engagement.

Upon my return to the city later that evening, I was shocked to learn that Mrs. Parks had been arrested in an incident involving the buses ….

That day was, for me, the beginning point of all the monumental events that soon began to unfold. My immediate little world began to change. And so did the larger world. I had pledged to myself that I would wage war on segregation. The opening shot had now been fired. With Mrs. Parks’s arrest came the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It changed the history of civil rights in Alabama, in the nation, and in the world. And it launched my legal career ….

Mrs. Rosa Parks was arrested for disorderly conduct – not for violating the segregation laws. This was the first of several crucial mistakes made by the white authorities. Anyone who knew Mrs. Parks knew that she would never do anything disorderly. She was soft-spoken, trustworthy, and very reliable. Disorderly conduct was altogether inconsistent with her reputation and character. Rosa Parks had the right temperament to test the segregation laws ….

The trial of Mrs. Rosa Parks took all of thirty minutes. The drama leading up to the trial itself was a lifetime in the making …. I met with Mrs. Parks, Mr. Nixon, Rev. Abernathy, Dr. King and other leaders at my office, which was a block and half away from the court ….

I knew that this was not the forum to challenge the segregation ordinances. The only victory that we could hope for with this case was to get Mrs. Parks exonerated because she was charged with disorderly conduct and not with violating the City’s segregation laws. We vigorously defended Mrs. Parks; however, Judge John B. Scott found her guilty and fined her ten dollars and costs ….

Most scholars believe that this case ignited the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties. This case and the Montgomery Bus Boycott also gave an opportunity for Dr. King to exhibit his leadership; this, it paved the way for the development of one of the greatest leaders in modern history ….Wineskins Magazine

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