because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rosa Parks

Most people in the United States and many people in the world have heard the story of how Rosa Parks wouldn't give up her seat on a public bus to a White person in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 to stand quietly in the back the way the bus company policies said she should. Few realize that there were three such in-your-face women before her, dating all the way back to 1946. Parks took center stage because the NAACP decided to use her arrest as a test case. And eventually, as we now know, they won the suit.

What practically nobody understands is that Parks' refusal to move wasn't because she was too weary from her long day as a seamstress to stand. She was an in-your-face woman long before that and had prepared herself for more than a decade to take just such a step.

After thirteen years of being the secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, a civil rights organization that had already won numerous struggles through legal litigation and street protest, Parks spent some time at the famous Highlander School in Tennessee where many radical rabblerousers were trained for more than four decades, including Martin Luther King, Jr., another Montgomery activist. Then, in August of 1955, Parks (like many others) were both horrified and inspired to act by the brutal death of teenager Emmett Till. So a scant three months later, Parks got on the Cleveland Avenue bus and sat in the front row of the "Colored" section, knowing full well that if the ten seats set aside for White folks got filled, she would be instructed to move. They did, she was, and she didn't.

As Parks told it later, "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." And that's how history -- and in-your-face women -- are made.

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