October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks

The Campus Progress blog has this excellent post on the death of Rosa Parks.

Its point is that Rosa Parks is often remembered merely as a woman who had enough, a woman who one day was too tired to give in to the pressures of racism and prejudice and spontaneously resisted. Even if Rosa Parks was only that, she would be worth remembering as an American hero, an icon of courage and the initiator of the greatest American social movement of the past century.

But she is and was more. She was not just some woman who had enough, she was an activist who confidently, repeatedly and assertively resisted segregation and the evils of bigotry. Her resistance was not a momentary thing, it was her life's work.
[I]n the 1940s Mrs. Parks had refused several times to comply with segregation rules on the buses. In the early 1940s Mrs. Parks was ejected from a bus for failing to comply. The very same bus driver who ejected her that time was the one who had her arrested on December 1, 1955...She began serving as secretary for the local NAACP in 1943 and still held that post when arrested in 1955...In the early 1940s Mrs. Parks organized the local NAACP Youth Council...During the 1950s the youth in this organization attempted to borrow books from a white library. They also took rides and sat in the front seats of segregated buses, then returned to the Youth Council to discuss their acts of defiance with Mrs. Parks.(from Aldon Morris's The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement)
Even the Times obituary downplays the systematic and character-defining nature of Mrs. Parks' resistance, preferring to go with the random act of resistance myth:
That moment on the Cleveland Avenue bus also turned a very private woman into a reluctant symbol and torchbearer in the quest for racial equality and of a movement that became increasingly organized and sophisticated in making demands and getting results.
Why is this distinction important? Because Mrs. Parks is an inspiration to all those who fight for justice and her real story deserves to be told.

But even more, it is important to show that activism is not a process marked by rare and precipitous events; it is a constant struggle that must be carefully planned, diligently practiced, and faithfully committed to. Rosa Parks showed us not the value of the individual, but of the power of concentration, determination, and guts on a social level. That should not demean her legend, it should confirm it.

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