Have you ever read or heard about someone and wished, “Boy, I would have like to have known him/her! They sound so interesting.”
Do you have a list of people you would like to enjoy a meal with and discuss topics of mutual interest?
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, a simple act, but one that changed the world.
Often misquoted as saying she was “simply tired” that day, she later corrected listeners and clarified, “I was tired of giving in.”
Parks’s story is interesting in many ways. Born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, she was the granddaughter of former slaves. Her parents, James and Leona McCauley, separated when Rosa was two years old, and her mother moved her family to Pine Level, Alabama to live with Rosa’s grandparents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards.
As former slaves, Rose and Sylvester were strong advocates for racial equality. Rosa always remembered the night her grandfather stood with a shotgun in front of the family home while Ku Klux Klansmen marched down the street.
Education was important to the family, and for the era, Rosa did well. Her mother taught Rosa to read, and Rosa later attended segregated schools. During her senior year of high school, she had to leave school to care for her ailing grandmother and mother.
After marrying in 1932, she earned her high school diploma with her husband’s support. Her employment history included being secretary to E.D. Nixon, NAACP President, a post she held until 1957.
Parks’ moment in time came Dec. 1, 1955 when she worked in a Montgomery department store as a seamstress. After work, she boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus and sat down in the front seat of rows marked “colored.”
As the bus continued on its route, more and more passengers boarded, until the “white” section was filled and several white passengers were standing in the aisle. At this point, the bus driver stopped the bus, moved the sign separating the two sections of seats back one row, and asked four black passengers to move back, surrendering their seats to white passengers. Parks refused and eventually was arrested, jailed for one night, and released on bail the following day.
Her story sparked a tremendous reaction and the famed Montgomery bus boycott followed, lasting 387 days. Her simple act changed the world.
But hers was not the first time someone had rebelled against segregated seating.
In 1912, a year before Parks’ birth, a Newport man did the same.
He was H.L. Moss, who was principal “of the colored school of Newport,” according to a fascinating news items which appeared on the front page of the Newport Plain Talk on February 20, 1913.
Sued Railroad When He Was
Forced to Give Seat to
At the last session of the Supreme court, a case of more than ordinary interest was settled when the verdict of the lower court awarding Prof. H.L. Moss of Newport a sum of $250 was decided in the affirmative.
Prof. Moss, who is principal of the colored school of Newport, a year ago was riding on a passenger train No. 4 from Johnson City to Bristol. He was in the rear seat of the colored section next to the partition, when the conductor or one of the trainmen came into the car and called him to “Get Out of There,” and straighway gave his seat to a white passenger, the train being very much crowded. This caused Prof. Moss to ride backward as he had to go forward to the front seat. The section was marked colored and he made some comment about being treated in such a manner and objected to riding backward, and then brought suit against the railroad company charging that the “Jim Crow” law had been violated by permitting white passengers in the colored section, and he brought suit for damages. He was successful in lower court and was awarded a sum of $250. The railroad carried the case to the Supreme court and here he was successful, as he but recently had the pleasure of spending the money secured as payment of the claim.
The “colored school” mention was not Tanner School, which was not built until the late 1920s. I’ve been told an earlier school served the black children in the Jones Hill area of Newport, but details of exactly where the building stood are vague. I don’t even know its name.
I’m guessing “Professor” Moss was not a Cocke County native but probably came here to teach.
What I do know is that he must have been a very brave man with firm beliefs to have challenged such an order by a white “trainman” in 1912, especially in the South. No doubt he, like Rosa Parks, found himself subjected to scurrilous comments and threats for his actions.
I would truly love to know more details about this remarkable fellow. Did he marry, have children, continue to teach in Newport? Did he continue to challenge segregation?
What a wonderful conversation that would be!