The list of civil rights leaders is rather long, and there are a lot of prominent people among them. I decided to compare and contrast two persons who were active in the middle of the twentieth century. One of them is Rosa Parks, who became famous not because she did something special but because she did not. Another person is Thurgood Marshall, first Afro-American to serve on Supreme Court. In the middle of 1950th they were among those people who get the movement for civil rights off the ground.
She was born in 1913 in the family of free people, but her grandparents were slaves. Her motivation to struggle was always connected with public transport – from early childhood in Alabama where school bus was available for white children only, till the famous refuse to give up her bus seat in 1955. Besides, her husband was the civil rights activist; he collected money to help “Scottsboro Boys” when they married. So, Rosa always followed her heart.
Her arrest after refusal to give up a seat started the Montgomery bus boycott. It is interesting that this arrest was not the first arrest for the same reason, but previous arrested black woman, Claudette Colvin, was pregnant in her 15. That is why activists of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) did not started boycott earlier. Rosa with her unstained reputation was the ideal plaintiff for the case against state. Thinking about her motivation, I concluded that she waited for the right moment till her childhood and that school bus. Being an ideal citizen – married, employed, with high school diploma, – she was segregated. Rosa Parks left a lot of documents about that day, she became famous “the mother of civil rights”, and that boycott became the starting point for young Martin Luther King. Transformation of ideal wife and worker to civil rights leader was almost momentary, but her previous life was the preparation. I think she knew that the right moment would come.
After the boycott in Montgomery Rosa continued her work as civil rights leader, in 1996 she has got the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that the U.S. government can give to a civilian.
“She sat down with dignity so that all black people could stand up with pride.”
He was five years elder then Rosa Parks, he was born in 1908. Like her he was the grandson of slaves. Like her, he has got the diploma of high school at the time, when only 7% of Afro American had such diplomas. His early interest to Constitution caused the decision to become a lawyer. He first faced the segregation when he could not continue his education in the University of Maryland. He graduated Howard University School of Law and set up private practice in Baltimore, where he began working for NAACP. He argued many other cases before the Supreme Court, most of them successfully. For example, he won the case of black student against University of Maryland. This student, like Marshall wanted to continue his education in this University, but was rejected too.
So, while Rosa Parks struggled on the lower level, on the level of ordinary people, Marshall acted on the upper level, on the level of the law. He continued to struggle for equal rights to education, and in 1954 he won the case “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483.” This case was “the beginning of the end” for separate public education.
His popularity helped him to develop friendly relationship with many influential people including J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. In 1961 Marshall was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Kennedy. In 1965 President Johnson appointed him Solicitor General. Later he was taken different positions as law clerks until his retirement in 1991.
It is hard to conclude something about his motivations and moral platform. He was too successful to remain of the same moral platform all the time. His career was extraordinary successful for that time; the grandson of slaves who became the Solicitor General could be compared only to the grandson of cook for missioners who became the president.
I compared two prominent civil rights leaders of the 20th century. Their starts were almost similar: grandparents were former slaved, family were low-income, segregation was the obstacle from their earlier years, but they both have got high education and voting right. However Rosa Parks stayed on the lower level, while Marshall moved to the position of Solicitor General. Without discussing the consequences of their struggle for their further life, I want to emphasize that they both wanted to eliminate segregation and they have broken through in this field.
Roger Goldman, David Gallen, “Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All” (1992). First Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc. New York.
Mark Feeney. “Rosa Parks, civil rights icon, dead at 92.” October 25, 2005. The Boston Globe.
Fox, John. “Expanding Civil Rights, Biographies of the Robes, Thurgood Marshall.” 2006.
“Black American History, a history of black people in the United States. Rosa Parks”
“Rosa Louise McCauley Parks 1913-2005”. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. October 1, 2005.