Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks died yesterday at the age of 92. For those who don't keep up:
Parks gained notoriety when on Dec. 1, 1955, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in segregated Montgomery, Ala. By doing so, she violated a city ordinance. She was jailed and fined $14 US.

That act of defiance led to the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by a young Baptist pastor named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A boycott of the Montgomery bus system was launched, and lasted 381 days.
The way the story is usually told is that this kindly woman simply was tired, or her feet hurt, or something like that. Parks says this is dead wrong:
"But the real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."
In fact, even this quote doesn't do justice to how deliberate her actions were. She had in fact attended a summer-long seminar that focused on training young black activists in civil disobedience. Parks had at one time been a card-carrying communist, so she was hardly apolitical.

It's a useful corrective to the load of crap that will be said in the coming days. I can't wait to see how Bush will pollute her memory. But remember this: Rosa Parks wasn't just a woman whose feet hurt. She went out of her way to pick a fight with the Apartheid regime in the US south. And she won.

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