The Jim Crow laws stand as a blemish in America’s history and are mentioned often during Black History Month. For at least one woman here at Salt Lake Community College, these laws were a terrifying reality in her life.
Professor Mildred Sparks is African-American and was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama during the time Jim Crow laws were in effect. The Jim Crow laws were the idea of separate but equal spaces and services for African Americans and Caucasian Americans. What really occurred was not equality, but segregation and treatment of African Americans as second class citizens on a daily basis.
“Horrible, horrible, horrible,” is how Sparks described this time period. “The most horrible terrifying experience of my life [knowing] that I had to be a second class citizen and realizing that I was a citizen of the United States of America.”
Sparks told that when she would go downtown to shop, the threat of being struck was always there. In addition, the ‘n’ word was commonly used and African Americans couldn’t try on clothes and shoes at a store.
“It was that kind of degradation of character that was just horrible, just horrible,” Sparks said.
When the Montgomery Bus Boycott started December 1, 1955 as Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white person, many, including Sparks, took up the cause for change by walking. Walking in groups to ease fear, those involved in the protest would sing as they went.
“We wanted change and there was no question we were going to be a part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” Sparks said.
The bus boycott lasted thirteen months. When it was announced that segregation of buses was over, Sparks said that there was excitement “because we had to learn the non-violent approach, the Gandhi approach for non- violent protest and civil disobedience,” Sparks said. “So all of us had to go through a training period where we were asked to subject ourselves to harsh words and taunting. Submit ourselves to all those things so we wouldn’t fight back.”
Sparks went to the traditionally black school Alabama State University where she majored in English and social studies.
“I really concentrated on writing and knowing those skills that would be important to me because I knew that I had a story to tell,” said Sparks, who is now sharing her story as she spreads awareness of diversity in her classes. “We are more the same than we are different [in] that we all want the same guarantees under the Constitution, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”