Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

Rosa Parks, 1913-2005 October 26, 2005

Archivemking_2This photo shows Rosa Parks (second from right) with Martin Luther King Jr., Peter Seeger, Charis Horton and Ralph Abernathy at the 25th anniversary reunion of the Highlander Center.

Mrs. Parks was at the reunion because she had attended a training session at Highlander in the summer of 1955, studying the techniques and philosophy of nonviolent social change. The subject was of interest to her as a long-time, committed activist who had served as an officer of her local NAACP chapter for the previous 12 years.

By the time the above photograph was taken in 1957, Mrs. Parks' commitment to nonviolent social change had gained the attention of the world. On Dec. 1, 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, helping to spark the long bus boycott that would give focus to the growing civil rights movement and lead, less than a decade later, to the Civil Rights Act and the death of official segregation.

I've borrowed this photo from Highlander's archives as a reminder that Rosa Parks was not an accidental hero. The myth of the seamstress with the aching feet obscures the vital preparation and organization that transformed Rosa Parks' act of courage into a national movement. It was this preparation and organization — the efforts of groups like the Women's Political Council — that resulted in Mrs. Parks' becoming "the mother of the civil rights movement," instead of simply the latest in a long line of Black citizens harassed, imprisoned or even beaten for refusing to yield their seats on a Montgomery bus.

This New York Times obituary does a good job of explaining Rosa Parks' political intent, and the array of political force employed behind her symbolic act. Paul Loeb explains why this matters in "The real Rosa Parks."

Revolutions can be planned. The revolutionary changes that Rosa Parks helped to spark were not an accident of history or the result of miraculous intervention. Many brave, determined people organized and strategized, and one brave, determined lady gave their cause a sharpening symbol.

With hard work and courage, such things can be planned.

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  • Scott

    Southern Baptists Slow to Embrace Rosa Parks
    Baptist Press on Tuesday devoted a 1,770-word tribute to Rosa Parks, a black Christian woman credited with starting the civil rights movement in 1955.
    Commenting on her death at age 92, several Southern Baptist leaders praised Parks as a courageous woman who changed a nation.
    But history records a different reaction from white Southern Baptists at the time. A 1999 essay by Andrew Manis, then at Mercer University, described Southern Baptist resistance to the civil rights movement.
    The title, “Dying From the Neck Up,” was from a 1956 quote by W.A. Criswell denouncing liberals who sought the end of Jim Crow. “Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they are all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up,” said the Dallas pastor, who went on to become SBC president and spiritual father of the “conservative resurgence.”…
    …By November 1968 a survey by the Home Mission Board revealed that only 11 percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans. Later that month the SBC Crisis Statement was reaffirmed by only eight state Baptist conventions, none of them in the Deep South….

  • pharoute

    oh I’m gonna hit a wasp nest but it seems to me that a certain ethnic/political minority in a certain part of the world would achieve their goals much faster, effectively and peacefully if they went the satyagraha route rather than the “martyr.”

  • Rosa Parks, civil rights heroine, passes away at 92

    Rosa Lee Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked the modern civil rights

  • bellatrys

    It would help a bit, if they weren’t facing mostly-US funded and equipped armies.
    Or don’t you think American resistance to oppression might have been a bit more violent, if it was being carried out with artillery and random death?
    After all, it was, once.
    But hey, never let facts get in the way of good rhetoric – or a bit of safe American sanctimony.

  • May the Legacy Live On

    UPDATE: Slacktivist offers some information suggesting that the above “tale of the tired feet” is a myth, and that the bravery shown by Ms. Parks was in fact no accident. If true, this only serves to make her decision to keep her seat, now understood t…

  • Scott

    I’m all for satyagraha in Iraq. As a matter of fact, had we gone that route, we wouldn’t be facing the mess there we are now.

  • pharoute

    Oh I’m sure it would quite bloody (probably even more so in the early going, American arms technology is nothing if not effective) but it’s clear that an “eye for an eye” strategy will never succeed. If you’re gonna be a martyr be a real one; the innocent victim.
    And I’m well aware of the conquest of the Americas. I managed to bring my senior religion class discussion of “The Mission” to halt by pointing out the uncomfortable truth that the war against the Amazonian tribes was still happening. The sad truth is that the Native tribes were screwed from the start. 18th and 19th (and 20th) Century American public consciousness had no qualms about putting a bounty on another human being.
    One would hope that at the dawn of the 21st we’d be slightly more aware….

  • jhlipton

    It’s a little odd hearing Mr Seeger referred to as “Peter” (I see that you copied that name from the Highland Center site). All my life, he’s just been “Pete”. I had to check the photo to make sure that, yup, it’s Mr Abiyoyo (one my favorites of his).

  • Beth

    The myth of the seamstress with the aching feet…
    We tend to like clear, simple causes, but life is rarely that simple. IIRC, Parks was involved in the civil rights movement even before the bus incident, but it could be that aching feet provided just enough extra impetus to turn the sense of injustice she already felt into concrete action. It’s sort of like apocryphal apple that beaned Newton. Sometimes all the thought and theory in the world will produce nothing until an immediate experience brings it all together and makes the way clear.
    It would help a bit, if they weren’t facing mostly-US funded and equipped armies.
    Fortunately, Gandhi didn’t think that way. He wasn’t facing down a small, America-supported nation, but the mightest country on earth: the British Empire. Non-violent resistance doesn’t mean “we’ll be peaceful as long as they are.” It means, “We’re committed to peaceful methods and will stick by them, regardless of the consequences.”
    How long would Israel have gotten away with employing that military equipment against the Palestinians without the justification of self-defense? To be clear, I don’t think the Palestinians’ failure to embrace more peaceful methods necessarily reflects much on them as a people. When you’re protesting a condition in the wake of a war, non-violent resistence isn’t likely to be your first thought. Still, blaming Israeli military power for the Palestenian failure to employ those methods not only distorts the current reality, it insults the memory of those who did choose non-violence against much greater odds.

  • R. Mildred

    There is a palestinian passive resistance movement, has been for a long time, except their best leader got kicked out of the country by Isreal and is exhiled in america.
    Here’s a brief overview of the man from a zionist supporter.
    Isreal has taken great pains to suppress civil jihad, not through it’s barbaric abuses of the palestinian populace creating a sympathy for militant action, but by actively working against groups that seek a peaceful method of outing the isrealis from their land.
    Imagine if king had been kicked out of the country during the early stages of the civil rights movement, and other similar peaceful activists had been imprisoned, killed and brutalised so that militant groups like the black panthers ended up taking charge of black reaction to racism, calling for a independent black state in louisiana and fighting with guns to get it.
    Nelson mandela could barely control the violent sections of the anti-apartheid movement, and he had a huge majority of the population of south africa behind him, no mossad to deal with and international sanctions and support helping his cause.

  • Beth

    Imagine if king had been kicked out of the country during the early stages of the civil rights movement…
    That metaphor needs a little work. Imagine King, long before his civil rights days had moved to England, married, settled down and became a British citizen. Imagine that a decade later he’d returned to the US where militant groups like the black panthers had already taken charge and their forms of protest included killing random whites. Imagine King had praised their efforts and said he would not be satisfied until the whites had all been driven into exile and America was no more. Now imagine that after all that, King was kicked out of the country and sent back home to England. Do you really think that would have been such a bad idea?

  • Mr Ripley

    R. MIldred –that’s not how you spell “Israel.” If it were, we couldn’t sing “The First Noel.”
    I’d just like to add that other peaceful Palestinian activists are of course “killed and brutalized” not only by Israel but by people on “their own side.” Christopher Hitchens, before he lost his mind completely, was very good at documenting this sort of thing in the face of “You should be more like Gandhi” finger-shakers.

  • Jay

    Another secret pleasure of living in metropolitan Detroit…
    Today, at Greater Grace Temple, a six-and-a-half hour funeral for Rosa Parks, glorious, simulcast in its entirety on a local television channel and the local public radio station.
    We are the poorest, we are the most segregated, and we most certainly “get” what is wrong with the majority ruling party in Washington. They think they have the God talk; but their God walk will land them in Hell as surely as any Old Testament prophet spoke God’s truth about justice and mercy. Pray for our evil and corrupt rulers, and their nave (or not so nave) followers.