Rosa Parks’ Journey as a Civil Rights Icon

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Many movements advocate against discrimination, prejudice, and forms of mistreatment based on gender, sexuality, race, and any aspects used by someone to make another looked down upon. The desired results of a movement do not occur overnight. For many people, movements took years to finally instill change, creating an impactful story behind every movement.

Although some movements will demonstrate a lack of change and success, the Black Civil Rights movement and the Japanese American Redress movement are both stories of meaningful change for each of their respective communities.

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A story of organized efforts against racial discrimination and the fight for equal rights unfolded within the African American community when the Civil Rights movement began in the late 1940s. During this time, the Redress movement also came about in efforts to compensate for the rights the government had taken away from the Japanese Americans.

Before these movements began, both African Americans and Japanese Americans were confined and limited in many ways by the law and social constructs. These two ethnicities encountered daunting obstacles in America. ?Nearly two hundred years of slavery and another hundred years of discrimination left deep imprints on African Americans. ?They were racially segregated from white Americans and although they had access to similar facilities compared to white institutions, they were still separated and viewed as lesser people. Japanese Americans also lived “separate but equal” lives like African Americans. The xenophobia after the war resulted in thousands of Japanese Americans being rounded up and sent to internment camps by the government, leaving behind their earnings, belongings, and properties. These restraints and prejudiced public opinions eventually sparked the Civil Rights movement and Redress movement to fight for both African Americans’ and Japanese Americans’ constitutional rights that were violated by unjust legislation.

For the most part, both of these movements held a united front despite encountering people and organizations that sought out different approaches to their goals. For instance, the Civil Rights movement had contrasting philosophies when it came to nonviolent and violent approaches. ?Eventually, the majority of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement chose nonviolent methods, like passive resistance, as a tool to dismantle racial segregation. ?Although the Civil Rights movement had people who believed in nonviolent protests and strikes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., other people, like Malcolm X, believed in a more defensive approach to the movement. ?Many African Americans took upon themselves to defend their lives and properties in a more aggressive manner, despite their adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence. However, it is worth noting that Malcolm X still applauded and publicly supported Martin Luther King Jr. to adhere to their united front throughout the movement. In a similar way, the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), the Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (NCRR), and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) were competitive, yet civil, with one another throughout the Redress movement. During the movement, the NCRR had its own beliefs on how the Japanese American community was to go about obtaining redress and reparations. Oftentimes, the NCJAR’s and JACL’s approaches and ideas led to disputes with the NCRR, but the NCRR still worked with these key community organizations to ensure a harmonious alliance as a collective community. Although all of these organizations played a major part in the Redress Movement, having the same approaches to each of the organizations’ individual goals was found to be difficult, similar to the individuals that were a part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Additionally, both of the movements’ outcomes consist of the conscientization of fighting for social justice and personal liberation. To illustrate, the Civil Rights movement may have reached a successful turning point after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the Civil Rights movement still has an ongoing, lasting legacy on the Black Lives movement we see today. This change was at the forefront for African Americans to understand critical consciousness and confront new issues, like their presence in education, the workplace, and the government. ?Differences determined by class position, gender, ?color?, and political orientation have always existed, but the Civil Rights movement freed African Americans to express themselves more openly than ever before. Similarly, the Redress movement has also contributed to transforming today’s Asian American movement, even after receiving redress and reparations from the government through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. In particular, younger generations, including the Nisei and Sansei, are becoming more actively aware of the social progress that they can instill together with the NCRR and other similar organizations. They are continually getting involved in the fight for justice and reform within the Asian American community. Because of the Redress movement, many Asian Americans today are able to voice their perspectives and advocate against disparities within the Asian American community, especially when it comes to present issues, like civil and labor rights and immigration reform. In short, these two movements fulfilled their goals of liberation and now, activists today are still adding to their stories as society changes more and more throughout decades. Clearly, these movements have left inspiring traces in many communities.

Furthermore, movements can be recognized in many different ways, such as books, people, society, and objects, that help tell their stories. My self-portrait includes a mosaic dedicated to Rosa Parks, showing a physical trace of her legacy within the Civil Rights movement story in a very ethnically diverse community in San Diego. Just like San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Diego played a role as a hub for many immigrants to settle on the West Coast. This sculpture emphasizes how this united community of many different ethnic groups may not have ever existed had Rosa Parks gave up her seat on that bus many years ago. By sitting down, she was standing up for all Americans. Just as former President Bill Clinton has said, “Rosa Parks ignited the most significant social movement in modern American history to finish the work that spawned the Civil War and redeem the promise of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment.” Without Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and many other historical black activists during the Civil Rights movement, the nation may still have been legally segregated. In a similar way, the book that the NCRR has written reveals traces of their impact from decades ago as they introduce important issues and grassroots techniques to a new generation of activists. Through the Redress movement, Japanese Americans’ history was pieced together, allowing better grasps of the story. Without the NCRR’s contribution to the Redress movement, fewer people would be vigilant against the violation of human and constitutional rights, especially in the Asian American culture. Thus, the Redress movement ended up being a means to “support others, find our voices, expand our humanity, and transform society” (NCRR 346) as Asian Americans.

Subsequently, both stories also became instruments of bringing change to our diverse society as many people face discrimination and prejudices for their race, gender, sexuality, and political views every day. These stories may have differed in their goals— one having a mission to desegregate society and one having a mission to instill redress and reparations. However, both movements held the same basic premise that African and Japanese Americans’ constitutional rights as American citizens were clearly being violated as different ethnic groups that were not associated with the ideal white American. Thus, the united front that both movements held shows the necessary sense of community for successful social changes.

Moreover, these stories are impactful and inspiring as they contribute to the complex, always changing the topic of ethnicity. For the most part, our lives were shaped by this much larger historical mobilization against racial intolerance. Evidently, traces of both these movements push for the continuation of fighting back, organizing, and demanding justice for the ways society has construed a group of people as different. After two decades for the Civil Rights movement and four decades for the Redress movement, their activism resulted in the federal government finally giving different racial groups equal protection. This anti-immigration and anti-colored environment clearly has historical relevance because it violates the equal rights that the 14th Amendment should have protected, which also is very much argued against in the past and present, especially when it comes to matters like segregation, gender discrimination, and gay marriage. Even if someone were an immigrant or different in any way, they should still have the right to equal protection and not be excluded in any case. Therefore, these stories also focus our attention on the failures of American legislation. Nonetheless, the Civil Rights movement and Redress movement were successful in reprimanding the government’s inequality and changing society positively, instilling a visionary future for all ethnicities.

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Rosa Parks' journey as a civil rights icon. (2021, May 26). Retrieved from