In Memoriam: Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks: February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005

I had hoped to post this on February 4th, the day marking Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday. This courageous woman is best-known for ‘standing her ground’ and refusing to move from her bus seat for a white man on December 1st, 1955. This led up to the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, organized by the NAACP, the Women’s Political Council, and various Black churches in the area. From Wikipedia:

“On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake‘s order that she give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation. Others had taken similar steps in the twentieth century, including Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, and the members of the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) arrested months before Parks. NAACP organizers believed that Parks was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws though eventually her case became bogged down in the state courts.”

Her childhood experiences with racism and discrimination were notable, spurring her towards activism in her early adult life. Her parents separated when she was young and her mother moved in with her own parents on a farm in Pine Level, Alabama. More from Wikipedia:

“Parks recalled going to elementary school in Pine Level, where school buses took white students to their new school and black students had to walk to theirs:

“I’d see the bus pass every day… 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.”[7]

Although Parks’ autobiography recounts early memories of the kindness of white strangers, she could not ignore the racism of her society. When the Ku Klux Klan marched down the street in front of their house, Parks recalls her grandfather guarding the front door with a shotgun.[8] The Montgomery Industrial School, founded and staffed by white northerners for black children, was burned twice by arsonists. Its faculty was ostracized by the white community.”

When her grandfather was prepared to defend their home from the KKK, Ms. Parks stated: “Whatever happened, I wanted to see it … I wanted to see him shoot that gun. I wasn’t going to be caught asleep.” This spirit of defense and defiance, she said later, “had been passed down almost in our genes’ that a proud African-American can not accept “bad treatment from anybody.”

Less-known is the fact that she was nearly raped by a white man in Alabama in 1931, while she worked as a domestic for a white family. It was late evening when “Mr. Charlie” pushed his way into the house and tried to have sex with her.  Having grown up in the segregated South, she knew all too well the special vulnerabilities black women faced. She recalled, for example, how her great-grandmother, a slave, had been “mistreated and abused” by her white master.

Despite her fear, she refused to let the same thing happen to her. “I knew that no matter what happened,” she wrote, “I would never yield to this white man’s bestiality.” “I was ready to die,” she said, “but give my consent, never.  Never, never.” Parks was absolutely defiant: “If he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body,” she said, “he was welcome, but he would have to kill me first.”

Her strength, determination, courage, and tireless efforts moved mountains. The NAACP stood behind her at a time when being a member of that organization meant something. Solidarity in, and support from, the Black community seems to be selectively offered. The Portland, Oregon branch of the NAACP doesn’t seem to have live people staffing the office. The Seattle branch was non-existent when I lived there. A commenter on another blog said it best – I hope he doesn’t mind if I quote him here:

“Massive Black Solidarity!!
Black Power…
Where did it go?
Did it die with MLK Jr and Malcolm X?
Seems so.”

I’ve had a similar thought for quite some time…

Rest in peace, Ms. Parks – you are a legend.

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