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Why Rosa Parks became important to me.

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  • Why Rosa Parks became important to me.

    (not sure if this belongs in this section. please move it elsewhere if you feel it necessary. thanks!)

    Let's go back in time a bit to when I was growing up in Queens, New York. Sheltered life in a mostly white Jewish neighborhood, but walked to Catholic school. Black teenage boys scared me back then because I only heard about the bad things they did. My mom would distinguish that my classmate So-And-So was a very nice colored boy and by example I did the same thing. So-And-So is very nice, or speaks very well. (for a colored person?) GEEZUS did I really think that? I finally figured out what I was doing. I was continuing to think about people and speak about people in segragated ways. Not good! There's no place in conversation for descriptives like "My black co-worker" or "my gay friend," unless it's necessary to the conversation. And if I slip, you have permission to kick me!

    Back then I didn't pay much attention to Black History Month or anything else that had to do with that stuff because it really had nothing to do with me. I was living in the modern world where everybody just...goes to school, gets jobs, has families, and nobody keeps slaves anymore. I used to feel like, "Would you please just get over it?" Then I had my eyes opened just a little bit. I read the Michener novel "Carribean". Go ahead, scoff that a work of historical fiction could get me thinking, but... isn't that what writing is about? This novel got me thinking and recalling things I'd forgotten from school. Stuff that didn't seem important then. Michener wrote about generations of people enslaved. GENERATIONS. If I recall, something like 14 generations? Between 200 and 300 years of people saying "Would you please just get over it? Everybody has slaves, what's the big deal?" Oh man.

    Bill Clinton said it best: "The world knows of Rosa Parks because of a single, simple act of dignity and courage that struck a lethal blow to the foundations of legal bigotry," at her memorial today. I've learned more about her life from her obituary than I did when she was living. All this time I thought she was just a tired working lady who wouldn't give up her seat to a white man. Only recently learned she'd been a peaceful activist most of her adult life. Wow. What impresses me most about people who make huge changes for the better in the world are the ones who did it peacefully.

    Anyway...when my son brings home books about Frederick Douglass and Dr. King, I'm reading them too. Not because I want to be an activist or a scholar of all things African-American. I'm just trying to remember that history isn't that far behind us. And we all have so much more to learn.

    KES
    November 2, 2005

  • #2
    Yes, I think a post about Rosa Parks is probably at home in the "activism" section. :)

    I grew up in a very white corner of England, so I grew up fairly ignorant. We did watch Roots at school though, and I vividly remember my ancient English teacher trying to read a book about segregation in the Deep South of America to the class, and insisting on doing all of the accents. :roll:

    Still, that may have been what got me interested in American Studies, which I pursued as one of my degree subjects. Obviously I read a lot more about such things at university, but the internet was also leaking in to libraries at that point so I was able to communicate with people from all sorts of different countries. I was whining to an American friend about how I always hated walking to school, and he told me about how he'd been bussed to school, through hails of bricks! I couldn't even imagine that... people throwing rocks at a bus full of children, just because they had the "wrong" colour of skin, or came from the "wrong" neighbourhoods. Not to suggest that there hasn't been racial tension in Britain of course, because there has, but I was studying American history so that's where my focus was.

    I have lots of great books on the subject, which I've probably never read all the way through (just the parts that related to essay questions, although I was a fairly thorough student), but Malcom X's autobiography is worth a look, as is a novel called Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It's been a while since I read either, so I won't risk elaborating, but they both made quite an impression.

    Well cat my dogs, I'm using knowledge I picked up on my degree. Won't my parents be proud? :)
    "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

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    • #3
      Originally posted by DeeCrowSeer
      Won't my parents be proud? :)
      Please don't scare them. ;)

      YES! The Internet is learning tool I'm using with caution. (can't believe everything that's in print.)

      Here's the guilty part. I'd read the Cliffs Notes version of Invisible Man and liked it, but Malcolm X is someone I have not explored much. I guess because he still feels angry. (with good reason, of course.)

      I read the Color Purple (more fiction :roll: ) That was one angry book which made it hard for me to read. But again, it opened my eyes to some aspects of life.

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      • #4
        I spent important years of my childhood in an African country. My father worked there as an advisor for labour legislation, introducing minimal wages, first union structures etc.
        There I witnessed discrimination at various points. First among Africans of that country who obeyed an inofficial "colour hierarchy", and even made jokes about "negros" in their language that I soon learnt. Then, often, a resentment by the Indian merchants there against all others, but more seriously against the native population - obviously because we were all outside the caste system. Of course the Africans returned the dislike and in some countries like Uganda even forced them to emigrate. One could also often see a condescending treatment by Britons of all other Europeans, regardless of which side these had been on in the war that was still pretty recent. Thank God not all Britons! Yet many seemed to be fighting futile rear-guard actions perhaps sensing that the grandeur of the Imperial days were slipping away. I personally was at some point heavily discriminated being the only German kid in an English school. I solved my problems by chumming up with a bespectacled, red-haired, slightly chubby Australian, himself a bit of an outsider, and soon overcame these things, especially after our headmaster made it very clear (with his cane) that he would never have accepted "Hitler's Son" at his school - which was just one of the names I was being called - and that anybody calling me thus would be in trouble. Then there was this Catholic Irish girl in my class who resolutely refused any fraternization attempts by the other Anglos and also stayed away (where was she then?) during Bible lessons. Then there was this Scots kid who was ever insecure if his upbringing so far had filled him with more hatred for "Sassenachs" from South f the Scottish border or Germans.

        Oh, and we weren't too fond of Austrians in my family, hehe.
        But with my bigger brothers around who had hoards of teenager friends from nearly everywhere - Swedes, Israelis, Italians, French, Brits and Africans from many countries, and Austrians. I can't remember there being any bias against any particular group. Yet this was 15 years after Europe's and the world's greatest disaster having ended that originated on discrimination I suppose my parents tried hard to broaden my views... in an very symbolic act they asked Ralph Bunche to become my Godfather, which he was happy to do. His name is nowadays not so commonly remembered as part of the Afro-American emancipation movement, but he was certainly a great man.


        And my Aussie friend is still, after over 40 years, a great pal of mine.
        Google ergo sum

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Poetgrrl
          Here's the guilty part. I'd read the Cliffs Notes version of Invisible Man and liked it, but Malcolm X is someone I have not explored much. I guess because he still feels angry. (with good reason, of course.)
          Well, as I say, it's been a while since I read the book (and I don't want to "spoil" it), but I think there's less anger towards the end, after he'd been around the world and taken a pilgrimage or two (and changed his name). Sadly of course he was killed, so we'll never really be sure where he might have been heading philosophically/politically. Nobody jump on me if I've got this wrong, but there's some suggestion that King was growing "angrier" towards the end of his (also cruelly cut short) life, and it's possible they would have met in the middle at some point. But that's just conjecture on the part of a forgetful graduate, so I'm not a reliable source for essay quotations. :(

          L'E, very interesting post. I knew you'd lived in Africa, but hadn't realised it had been at such a formative age! Of course, as you suggest, prejudice isn't as black and white (sorry) an issue as it first appears. There are so many peculiar divisions in society, between people of the same colour and otherwise. I'm still amazed when people my own age express a distrust or dislike of other Europeans, for no apparent reason. But the quick and easy solution to all this division is... er... I think I heard the doorbell...

          [Dee scarpers]

          PS. Not entirely relevant, but I just bought Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet today. I'd never heard it before, but it's amazing how fresh the music sounds after a decade... it's just a shame that some of the problems they highlight are also still fresh in our minds.
          "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

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          • #6
            Rosa Parks was some woman, but I heard an interview, on BBC Radio4 Broadcasting House last week, with Claudette Colvin, one of the women who, as a sassy young lassie, paved the way for Rosa Parks with her own act of passive resistance.

            Here's a piece from Tolerance.Org:
            http://www.tolerance.org/teach/activ...ty.jsp?cid=388

            BROWDER v. GAYLE: The Women Before Rosa Parks

            Learn about the legal battle that made the Montgomery Bus Boycott successful.
            By Tim Walker

            ...

            Rosa Parks' civil disobedience on a bus in 1955 was unquestionably the event that galvanized the African American activist community into organizing a successful boycott of the Montgomery City bus system.

            But the incident described above could be the story of a number of brave, mostly unheralded African America women in Montgomery who refused to yield their bus seats to White patrons — months before Rosa Parks' actions on December 1, 1955.

            It was four women in particular — Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith — who served as plaintiffs in the legal action challenging Montgomery's segregated public transportation system.

            It was their case — Browder v. Gayle — that a district court and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court would use to strike down segregation on buses.

            Probably the most well-known of the four plaintiffs was Claudette Colvin. A 15-year old student at Booker T. Washington High School, she boarded a bus on March 2, 1955. After refusing to give up her seat to a White man, Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus, as she screamed that her Constitutional rights were being violated.

            Colvin was active in the NAACP's Youth Council and was advised by none other than Rosa Parks. ("Mrs. Parks said always do what was right," she remembered years later.)

            The NAACP and other activists were initially excited at the prospect of organizing a boycott and civil action around Colvin's case. Momentum waned when E.D. Nixon discovered that Colvin was several months pregnant.

            Nixon and local attorney Fred Gray were apprehensive about asking conservative-minded African American churches to fight on behalf of Colvin, who was also prone to outbursts and cursing. Many of the charges against Colvin were dropped and a boycott and legal case never materialized.

            ...
            So, respect to Rosa Parks and to the other women and men who devised and carried out such a brilliant piece of civil disobedience.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudette_Colvin :)

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            • #7
              Dee: Just to clarify, can't help myself: I know that Malcolm X was killed. What I meant when I said "he's still angry" (present tense) in his writings and watching him speak... you can feel his anger STILL from the grave. *shivers*

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Poetgrrl
                Dee: Just to clarify, can't help myself: I know that Malcolm X was killed. What I meant when I said "he's still angry" (present tense) in his writings and watching him speak... you can feel his anger STILL from the grave. *shivers*
                Don't worry, that's what I assumed you meant... although we have just spoiled the movie for anyone who might have been planning to rent it. 8O But you're right, he was a powerful orator, and that still echoes off the page or the TV screen. And he had a lot to be angry about.

                Androman, thanks for putting Parks's (still remarkable) protest in a wider context. I can't get my head around the idea of people being arrested for not giving up their bus seat. It's such a stupid law, but would I have been brave enough to protest it? I don't know... :(
                "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by DeeCrowSeer

                  Androman, thanks for putting Parks's (still remarkable) protest in a wider context. I can't get my head around the idea of people being arrested for not giving up their bus seat. It's such a stupid law, but would I have been brave enough to protest it? I don't know... :(
                  I'm like you, Dee. I would like to think I would protest, but I don't know. Bill Clinton said that he began sitting in the back of the bus following her arrest. I would like to think I would have come up with a kind of protest so subtle and so potent in its symbolism.

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