“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them. -James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
It is impossible to forget about the legacy of Rosa Parks. She was not some tired seamstress with tired feet. She was a brilliant human rights fighter. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 60 years ago today, gifted us the mere privilege to debate about the level of tolerance from today’s multicultural millennials: without Park’s revolutionary action, segregation (Jim Crow laws) would still be the law of the “free” land. “Diversity” in technology, Hip Hop, sports…every aspect of our daily American lives would be physically separated by the ongoing false idea of white supremacy. Yet, sadly, we still have stark racial divides, especially between black and white millennials.
The “most tolerant generation” still suffers from a lack of racial interaction, which impacts the way we address the disparities in schooling, housing, and policing.
History is also used as a weapon, a political tool to discredit a person or a movement. People tried to reduce Rosa Parks to a mere “accidental heroine,” just one of a few attempts to eradicate the history of black power, strength and community. Parks’ civil disobedience led to a year-long boycott of city buses, headed by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but there was more to her story.
Multicultural millennials aren’t suffering from the segregation of water fountains and buses, but they are suffering from short attention spans. Here are some facts about Rosa Parks and what she endured during the Jim Crow era.
1. Rosa Parks was not the first African-American woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the segregated Montgomery bus.
Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African-American girl, preceded Rosa Parks by doing it in March 2, 1955. Browder v. Gayle effectively ended bus segregation. Although Rosa Parks supported her actions, Colvin was pregnant and unmarried at the time; leaders didn’t want to use her as the pioneering face of the bus boycott. Rosa Parks, who already heavily involved in social justice, refused her seat on December 1, 1955, a move which changed the course of history.
2. Accidental Heroine? Hell no!
Political activism played a key role in her life before and after the life changing arrest. Parks was the secretary of the local NAACP Montgomery chapter; she was a long-time member, joining in 1943.
3. Physical fatigue wasn’t the reason why she refused to leave her seat:
“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,” she wrote in her autobiography, “or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
4. Parks was not sitting in a whites-only section.
The bus driver, James Blake, ordered her and few others to move after the “whites only section” was filled and left one white man standing. An indication that even during segregation, black bodies were seen as disposable.
5. The Women’s Political Council in Montgomery was already planning to boycott the bus system.
Rosa Parks’ civil disobedience simply catapulted their economic boycott, “and a longer one was launched shortly afterward, crippling the finances of the company that ran the bus system, which typically derived over 75 percent of its fare revenue from African-American passengers.”
6. Rosa Parks and Raymond Parks (her husband and civil rights campaigner) never found work in Montgomery again. They both lost their jobs, but continued to fight for racial justice.
7. Rosa Parks was also an anti-rape activist years before the Woman’s Movement.
Illustration by Michael White.