We Remember Mama - Rosa Parks - February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005 by Diane Cameron FROM THE BLACK HISTORY HEROES


Still waiting for my change to come.. Seem like I’m the only one.. Wait day and night Oh why Lord why Do my blessings crawl ….but my troubles run…” Diane Cameron Protest has always served as the engine that fuels change. History has recorded demonstrations of resistance. In 1775, Bunker Hill was the result of American protest of British rule. In 1861 at Fort Sumter the first “family feud” came as a result of the conflict between the Union and the Confederates over the slavery-states rights issue. In the early 1900’s women workers in the needle trades in New York protested child labor, sweatshop working conditions while demanding women’s voting rights. In the 60’s student activism erupted all across campuses in the United States opposing the war in Vietnam. Who can forget Neil Young haunting anti-war song, “Ohio”, referring to the incident on the campus of Kent State where 4 students were gunned down by the National Guard during a war protest? Perhaps the most internationally televised illustration of defiance occurred during the Olympics of 1968. At the Mexico City games, African American athlete Tommie Smith raised his right, black-glove-covered fist in the

air to represent black power in America while fellow Olympiad John Carlos' left, black-covered fist represented unity. Around Smith's neck a black scarf stood for black pride and collectively their black socks sans shoes stood for black poverty. The picture of these two appeared on just about every newspaper around the world. Recently, following the footsteps of the civil rights pioneers who laid a foundational blueprint, approximately 60 to 100 thousand people of all colors nationwide mobilized into Jena, Louisiana in a show of solidarity against the injustice of the Jena 6. In spite of this show of strength, hatred and enmity are colorless and its roots within a heart can only be expunged by a willing owner. In the 50’s and 60’s winds of intolerance toward racial inequality were radically blowing strong in America. Marches, sit-ins and boycotts (oh my) became the status quo. In December, 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson integrated the Brooklyn Dodgers. Eighteen months after the landmark Brown vs. Brown Supreme Court Decision which desegregated schools, an Alabama seamstress made a choice which changed the entire course of the civil rights movement in America. Ending her workday at the Montgomery Fair Department Store where she was employed as a seamstress, this dignified and indomitable lady boarded the Cleveland avenue bus as she had many times before and sat down in row 5. Apparently the bus began to get crowded and although she was sitting in the designated colored section of the bus, blacks were supposed to relinquish their seats to whites in the event there were no other seats available. A white male passenger boarded the bus and the driver demanded Mrs. Parks give up her seat; she refused and was subsequently arrested. Although she was not the first to defy the local ordinance, I believe by predestination the mantle was her birthright. Several biographical accounts report that she disobeyed bus driver James Blake’s order to give up her seat because she was physically tired. In Mrs. Parks own words, “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. 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.” In a later interview, she recalled, “When I got off from work that evening of December 1, I went to Court Square as usual to catch the Cleveland Avenue bus home. I didn’t look to see who was driving when I got on, and by the time I recognized him, I had already paid my fare. It was the same driver who had put me off the bus back in l943, twelve years earlier. He was still tall and heavy, with red, rough-looking skin. And he was still mean-looking. I didn’t know if he had been on that route before—they switched the drivers around sometimes. I do know that most of the time if I saw him on a bus, I wouldn’t get on it.” Researching the life of someone as enigmatic as Rosa Parks often draws conflicting accounts. There are rumors that her bus defiance was planned as if she was part of a plot to incite a boycott. I don’t know if this it accurate or not, but I will rely on her confession. "I did not get on the bus to get arrested," she said. "I got on the bus to go home." Truth or embellishment, the entire civil rights movement must unanimously concur, her tolerance for continuing to endure the humiliation ended December 1, 1955 and simultaneously weakened the stronghold of Jim Crow. Days later she was tried, found guilty, paid a $10.00 fine, $4.00 court cost and walked out of that courtroom to help rewrite history starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 381 days later after crippling the City Transportation System the ordeal ended when the United States Supreme court ruled bus segregation in Alabama was unconstitutional. In the interim, call it divine intervention,

fate, providence or God’s will, the ensuing boycott merged two formidable future icons of the civil rights struggle, Ralph David Abernathy and a young, little known Minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King. Abernathy, King along with Rosa Parks and the trinity of non-violent civil rights activism had been birthed. Rosa Parks continued her work striving for Civil Rights until she was well into her 80‘s. One would think that in her latter years she would live a trouble free life. In August 1994, she was attacked by a home invader, an African American male looking for money to buy drugs. How ironic because he was the reason for her life’s work. However, Mrs. Parks reflects, “I pray for this young man and the conditions in our country that have made him this way. Despite the violence and crime in our society, we should not let fear overwhelm us. We must remain strong." What a statement to make in a time where unintentionally cutting off a driver in traffic can be unforgivable. Rosa was the recipient of incalculable honors, awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from Universities Worldwide as well as an honorary membership from the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She received the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and in 1996 President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Using my journalistic license, I presume her most endearing accolade came from South African herald of social change, Nelson Mandela. She was invited to South Africa in 1990 as part of an entourage to welcome Mandela who had just been freed from 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island. He noticed her in the reception line and called her name. When she responded Mandela shared these words, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.” When I read this I thought, well…well…even heroes need a hero. Nearly two years since her passing and how befitting she would leave us during October the official month of change. Her life was an ensemble of change and perhaps even the seasons were wise enough to gift the world with a sweet autumn reminder of her each year. Leaves from green to red and gold, temperatures from hot and warm to mercurial. Tangerine skies and frequent rains for harvesting. I can imagine a myriad of angels on assignment, riding a golden chariot reverently carrying her back to heaven. Under their wings special orders to allow her the seat of her choice. Mama Rosa, it is true, you are the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. Thank you for your life, there are millions of us who benefit today from the decision you made 52 years ago. A songwriter once said “Only the good die young”, I say, “not so, sometimes they live to be 92.”

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