October 25, 2005

She stood up by sitting down

  Rosa Parks

Detroit Free Press.
When Rosa Parks refused to get up, an entire race of people began to stand up for their rights as human beings.

This gentle giant, whose quietness belied her toughness, became the catalyst for a movement that broke the back of legalized segregation in the United States, gave rise to the astounding leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and inspired fighters for freedom and justice throughout the world.
People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.- O No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

The New York Times
For her act of defiance, Mrs. Parks was arrested, convicted of violating the segregation laws and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees. In response, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the buses for nearly 13 months while mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law that enforced their second-class status on the public bus system.

Dave Weinberger says
I was five when she refused to move out of the whites-only seats at the front of the bus. I was told that she was a humble Black woman who, after a hard day of work, was too tired to get up. In fact, she was a committed civil rights worker, a secretary in the Montgomery office of the NAACP where she recorded reports of racial discrimination and interviewed African-Americans with legal complaints. (I in fact was taught she was a white family's maid. Did those telling the story just assume that that's what black women do?)

It's a better story the first way, but why?
The mythic version is so powerful because of what it doesn't say. Obviously, the point wasn't that she was tired, that she collapsed in the seat and was physically unable to stand up. Presumably she was tired every day. The point of the myth is exactly that this day was like every other except for what happened in Rosa Parks' heart. On that day like any other, a woman like any other rose above the accepted condition. Like the first photo of the whole earth seen from space, Parks' refusal to change seats transformed our perspective

Rosa didn't have children but LaShawn Barber says

I suppose those she inspired to stand up to injustice were her offspring. Once people understand the power they have in a free country, the moral authority to demand justice, watch out.

The Washington Post

She was given the Medal of Honor, the highest award that the U.S. government bestows, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. More than 40 colleges and universities gave her honorary doctorates, and her name is cited in virtually every U.S. history book that addresses the civil rights movement.


In 1988 Rosa Parks said, ""I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die - the dream of freedom and peace."

Truly, a Great Legacy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at October 25, 2005 2:08 PM | Permalink

It is good that our country did not require Rosa Parks' mother to abort her and all the other blacks. That would have been wrong. --Bill Bennett

Posted by: Bill Bennett at October 25, 2005 3:00 PM