Naming a human being is a daunting task for my husband and me as we’ve named our children, so many factors go into picking a name for them. It has to sound good of course, but it must also be meaningful, have no negative associations, and have a positive association in history. Before we even decided to have children, we started the conversation. I didn’t want either of us to have to settle for names we only sort of liked, so we talked about it a lot and only considered names that we both loved. We had a boy’s name and a girl’s name picked before our first child was conceived, which worked out well because we had a boy and a girl in a little over a year and a half and we got to use both names. But, when we started talking about having baby #3, we had to start the conversation all over again. We decided on “Rosa” for our daughter who was born at the end of last year. According to criteria- this name is meaningful- especially having a Biblical connection in the book of Song of Solomon. We have no negative associations with the name. And historically the name “Rosa” has a strong association with two hard working courageous African American women who paved the way for so much good for their own people and the rest of the country and the world.
February is Black History Month. As part of that, I would like to honor the lives and stories of these women who worked against the discrimination of their day to promote education and equal rights for black people. The first is Rosa Young, a little known teacher who was most active spreading education in the Southern United States in the early 20th century. The second, Rosa Parks, a household name for her act of courage in 1955, was also a civil rights activist long before her act of peaceful protest ignited a movement.
Rosa Young, also known as “The First Rosa” was born in Alabama in 1890. She had a passion for education for black children in rural areas. As encouraged by her parents, she went on to graduate valedictorian from Payne University in Selma, Alabama in 1909 with a teaching degree where she was among some of the first classes of African American students. Rosa began traveling as a teacher among rural schools for African American children which was a common practice at the time because of the shortage of black teachers and laws that unfairly withheld funding from schools without an established teacher.
Miss Young eventually established a private school in her own hometown of Rosebud, Alabama, The Rosebud Literary and Industrial School, which grew very quickly. Within a few years, Mexican boll weevils devastated cotton production in the area and many parents of children in her school were unable to afford tuition, so she sought the help of Booker T. Washington to aid in funding. Unable to help at the time, he directed her to Lutheran church headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri where she received funding and a church was established in her community as well. The school became so successful, that Rosa Young became sought after by other communities where she helped to establish schools and churches as well. She eventually went on to be influential in the beginning of Alabama Lutheran Academy and College which was used to train African Americans to be pastors and teachers. Rosa’s life and work are published in her autobiography, Light in the Dark Belt, published in 1950.
Rosa Parks, “the mother of the modern day civil rights movement”, while best known for refusing to give up her seat for a white male passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, was involved in the civil right movement along with her husband many years before she became famous. She and her husband Raymond were actively involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) programs including working with youth in their local branch beginning in 1943. After Rosa was arrested, she was instrumental in the organized boycott of the city bus system in Montgomery that lasted for more than 1 year. Sadly, she lost her job at a local department store at this time, was arrest for peaceful acts of civil disobedience and eventually was forced to move to Detroit after threats were made on her life in conjunction with the boycott in 1957.
Mrs. Parks continued her activism especially among youth once in Detroit becoming a deaconess in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, working for a local congressman and founding the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. The institute was established to help youth realize their full potential. Rosa encouraged youth to learn about the lives of those who fight for world peace and she saw that the energy of young people was the catalyst for change. Rosa remained active throughout her life in encouraging the advancement of African Americans until her death in 2005 and received 43 honorary doctorates from prominent universities nationally and internationally. Rosa Parks has written two books detailing her story including: Rosa Parks: My Story and Quiet Strength.
My daughter has a strong name with connection to very strong and determined women. As I gaze at this baby with so much potential, I can only hope that the example of these two incredible women will help guide my daughter as she grows to also be part of changing our world for the better.