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Amy Goodman
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 31 January 2013
Rosa Parks has much to teach us. In fact, she and other young women had refused to give up their seats on the bus before Dec. 1, 1955.

Rosa Parks, Now and Forever

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On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., thus launching the modern-day civil-rights movement. Monday, Feb. 4, is the 100th anniversary of her birth. After she died at the age of 92 in 2005, much of the media described her as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker. But the media got it wrong. Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker.

Professor Jeanne Theoharis debunks the myth of the quiet seamstress in her new book “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” Theoharis told me, “This is the story of a life history of activism, a life history that she would put it, as being ‘rebellious,’ that starts decades before her famous bus stand and ends decades after.”

She was born in Tuskegee, Ala., and raised to believe that she had a right to be respected, and to demand that respect. Jim Crow laws were entrenched then, and segregation was violently enforced. In Pine Level, where she lived, white children got a bus ride to school, while African-American children walked. Rosa Parks recalled: “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”

In her late teens, Rosa met Raymond Parks, and they married. Rosa described Raymond Parks as the first activist she had ever met. He was a member of the local Montgomery NAACP chapter, and, when she learned that women were welcome at the meetings, she attended. She was elected the chapter’s secretary.

It was there that Rosa met and worked with E.D. Nixon, a radical labor organizer. Rosa Parks was able to attend the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, in 1955. The school was a gathering place for activists—black and white together—committed to overcoming segregation, and for developing strategies and tactics for nonviolent resistance to it. It was there that Pete Seeger and others wrote the song “We Shall Overcome” as the enduring anthem of the civil-rights movement.

Parks returned to Montgomery and her job as a seamstress. On Dec. 1, 1955, she left work and got on the bus to go home. “The driver said that if I refused to leave the seat, he would have to call the police. And I told him, ‘Just call the police,’” Parks told Pacifica Radio in April 1956. “The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed.” Her arrest that day sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would last more than a year. It was led by a young minister who had just moved into town: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks helped to launch Dr. King. Some 50,000 African-Americans carpooled, used church vehicles, rode in African-American-owned taxis and walked. The boycott crippled white businesses and the public transit system. Parks and others mounted a court challenge to the segregation, and in June 1956, a federal court ruled segregation on buses as unconstitutional.

The Parks moved to Detroit. She continued her work, responding to the Detroit riots in 1967, conferring with members of the Black Power movement like Stokely Carmichael. She opposed the war in Vietnam. Historian Theoharis notes that Park’s biggest hero was Malcolm X. In the 1980s, Rosa Parks fought against apartheid, joining protests outside the South African embassy in Washington, D.C.

When she met Nelson Mandela after his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”

When Rosa Parks died, she was the first African-American woman to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. I raced down to Washington, D.C., to cover her memorial service. I met a young college student and asked her why she was there standing outside with so many hundreds of people listening to the service on loudspeakers. She said proudly, “I emailed my professors and said I won’t be in class today; I’m going to get an education.”

Rosa Parks has much to teach us. In fact, she and other young women had refused to give up their seats on the bus before Dec. 1, 1955. You never know when that magic moment will come, but when it does, if you are involved with social change, you will have helped to build a foundation that will make history. This Feb. 4, the U.S. Postal Service will release a Rosa Parks Forever stamp, a reminder of the enduring mark she made. Rosa Parks was no tired seamstress. As she said of that brave action she took, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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ABOUT Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

People often don't see what's

People often don't see what's right in front of them. If we're even going to pretend to be a democracy, we need a civil rights movement for the post-middle class/poor, who have actually been stripped of a number of basic legal rights and protections since the Clinton admin. White America once simply didn't think about the conditions suffered by black America, assuming they were living as they wished and/or were just too damn lazy to get up and get a job. It was taken for granted that they were stupid and promiscuous, and needed to be kept firmly in line. We took a number of measures to keep them in poverty because, after all, if they had money, they'd just throw it away on drinking and drugs. Today, we apply all of these ignorant stereotypes to our poor as an excuse to do nothing. Consider that as a direct consequence of Bill Clinton's welfare "reform," extreme poverty in the US has doubled. Infant mortality rates have been rising among the poor while the life expectancy of America's poor has actually fallen below that of some Third World countries. But hey, it's not like they're regular human beings, right?

jackwenayscott's picture

Emotionally, I prefer Negro

Emotionally, I prefer Negro culture, they are closer in history to a tribal lifestyle that is preferable to the whites' ccnturies long affair with "civilization". But then, the Negroes were there for me in 1956. Yes, hearing that the Scotts were believers in equality, and little Jacky had called the shoe-shine fella in Bellevue "Sir", Negro men gathered outside my bedroom window at night and I was inducted into the rythm and the blues, and the manners of speach, and (most importantly) the identity of the Jim Crow Negro culture. I was 5 or 6 years old and impressionable, my downstairs bedroom (where I was put because I refused to watch any TV) was cold (yup, unheated), it was lonely, it was scary (I was forced to turn out the lights every night), it wasn't too good, and when there was talking outside the window impressionable little me was impressed! Now, during my pain period from 1975-1980 I flirted with white racism, but in 1981 I was feeling better and went back to being egalitarian and fair to all races. I respect Rosa Parks and think we should all be more politically equal and more equal in wealth.

and your point is???

and your point is???

Which leads us to the last

Which leads us to the last battle in the struggle for human rights, freedom, dignity and equity. The Supreme Whitees are getting to the point where they control all the energy, the food, soon if they get their way, the water and all of the nations wealth. The choice will be capitulating to the whims of the Supreme Whitees and having food on the table, gas in the car, heat for the house and water to quench thirst or standing up for humanity, dignity and freedom and starving and freezing to death.

The Highlander School

The Highlander School experience was crucial for Rosa Parks. As she put it, it was "the first time in my life I had lived in an atmosphere of complete equality with members of the other race .... I felt it could be done without the signs that said 'White' and 'Colored' --without any artificial barriers of racial segregation. The experience thus reinforced the "sense of possibility" that social movement research suggests is crucial for people to begin acting (and joining with others) against their oppression. I discuss the importance of catalysts to action in my chapter on "An Awakening Democratic Dialectic: From Action to Empowerment in the 1960s" (in "What Really Happened to the 1960s: Mass Media Culture and the Decline of American Democracy."

Anyone familiar with the Rosa

Anyone familiar with the Rosa Parks story would be struck by parallels with Viola Desmond's battle in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1946. She was arrested for sitting in the Whites Only section of a movie house. The charge perversely sidestepped the segregation issue by focusing on the fact that she hadn't paid the extra penny in tax on the ground floor seats. Desmond received a posthumous pardon in 2010.

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