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Getting Out : Seeking Justice

In Memory of Rosa Parks

from Seismograph - Wednesday, October 26, 2005
accessed 2193 times

Yesterday, the 25th of October, 2005, Ms. Rosa Parks died at the age of 92. The title of her obituary in the New York Times called her "a founding symbol of the civil rights movement." Below are some excerpts from the obituary, which can be read in full at I had a hard time selecting portions because I find the story of her life so moving. But this is my favorite passage, one to which I think a lot of us can relate:
"In "Stride Toward Freedom," Dr. [Martin Luther King] wrote, "Actually no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer.' "

Rosa Parks, a black seamstress whose refusal to relinquish her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., almost 50 years ago grew into a mythic event that helped touch off the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's, died yesterday at her home in Detroit. She was 92 years old.

For her act of defiance, Mrs. Parks was arrested, convicted of violating the segregation laws and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees. In response, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the buses for nearly 13 months while mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law that enforced their second-class status on the public bus system.

The events that began on that bus in the winter of 1955 captivated the nation and transformed a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. into a major civil rights leader. [Ö] "Mrs. Parks's arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest," Dr. King wrote in his 1958 book, "Stride Toward Freedom. "The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices."

Her act of civil disobedience, what seems a simple gesture of defiance so many years later, was in fact a dangerous, even reckless move in 1950's Alabama. In refusing to move, she risked legal sanction and perhaps even physical harm, but she also set into motion something far beyond the control of the city authorities. Mrs. Parks clarified for people far beyond Montgomery the cruelty and humiliation inherent in the laws and customs of segregation.

That moment on the Cleveland Avenue bus also turned a very private woman into a reluctant symbol and torchbearer in the quest for racial equality and of a movement that became increasingly organized and sophisticated in making demands and getting results.

"She sat down in order that we might stand up," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said yesterday in an interview from South Africa. "Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors for our long journey to freedom."

Over the years myth tended to obscure the truth about Mrs. Parks. One legend had it that she was a cleaning woman with bad feet who was too tired to drag herself to the rear of the bus. Another had it that she was a "plant" by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The truth, as she later explained, was that she was tired of being humiliated, of having to adapt to the byzantine rules, some codified as law and others passed on as tradition, that reinforced the position of blacks as something less than full human beings.

"She was fed up," said Elaine Steele, a longtime friend and executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. "She was in her 40's. She was not a child. There comes a point where you say, 'No, I'm a full citizen, too. This is not the way I should be treated.' "

At the urging of an employer, Virginia Durr, Mrs. Parks had attended an interracial leadership conference at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., in the summer of 1955. There, she later said, she "gained strength to persevere in my work for freedom, not just for blacks but for all oppressed people."

But as she rushed home from her job as a seamstress at a department store on Dec. 1, 1955, the last thing on her mind was becoming "the mother of the civil rights movement," as many would later describe her. She had to send out notices of the N.A.A.C.P.'s coming election of officers. And she had to prepare for the workshop that she was running for teenagers that weekend. "So it was not a time for me to be planning to get arrested," she said in an interview in 1988.

On Montgomery buses, the first four rows were reserved for whites. The rear was for blacks, who made up more than 75 percent of the bus system's riders. Blacks could sit in the middle rows until those seats were needed by whites. Then the blacks had to move to seats in the rear, stand or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Even getting on the bus presented hurdles: If whites were already sitting in the front, blacks could board to pay the fare but then they had to disembark and re-enter through the rear door.

For years blacks had complained, and Mrs. Parks was no exception. "My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest," she said. "I did a lot of walking in Montgomery."

After a confrontation in 1943, a driver named James Blake ejected Mrs. Parks from his bus. As fate would have it, he was driving the Cleveland Avenue bus on Dec. 1, 1955. He demanded that four blacks give up their seats in the middle section so a lone white man could sit. Three of them complied.

Recalling the incident for "Eyes on the Prize," a 1987 public television series on the civil rights movement, Mrs. Parks said: "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.' "

Blacks had been arrested, and even killed, for disobeying bus drivers. They had begun to build a case around a 15-year-old girl's arrest for refusing to give up her seat, and Mrs. Parks had been among those raising money for the girl's defense. But when they learned that the girl was pregnant, they decided that she was an unsuitable symbol for their cause.

Mrs. Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as "one of the finest citizens of Montgomery - not one of the finest Negro citizens - but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery," Dr. King said.

While Mr. Nixon met with lawyers and preachers to plan an assault on the Jim Crow laws, the women's council distributed 35,000 copies of a handbill that urged blacks to boycott the buses on Monday, Dec. 5, the day of Mrs. Parks's trial. "Don't ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday," the leaflet said.

On Sunday, Dec. 4, the announcement was made from many black pulpits, and a front-page article in The Montgomery Advertiser [Ö], further spread the word. Some blacks rode in carpools that Monday. Others rode in black-owned taxis that charged only the bus fare, 10 cents. But most black commuters - 40,000 people - walked, some more than 20 miles.

At a church rally that night, blacks unanimously agreed to continue the boycott until these demands were met: that they be treated with courtesy, that black drivers be hired, and that seating in the middle of the bus go on a first-come basis.

The boycott lasted 381 days, and in that period many blacks were harassed and arrested on flimsy excuses. Churches and houses, including those of Dr. King and Mr. Nixon, were dynamited.

Finally, on Nov. 13, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on buses. The court order arrived in Montgomery on Dec. 20; the boycott ended the next day. But the violence escalated: snipers fired into buses as well as Dr. King's home, and bombs were tossed into churches and into the homes of ministers.

"There are very few people who can say their actions and conduct changed the face of the nation," [Representative John Conyers Jr.] said yesterday in a statement, "and Rosa Parks is one of those individuals." In the last decade, Mrs. Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Rosa McCauley attended rural schools until she was 11 years old, then Miss White's School for Girls in Montgomery. She attended high school at the Alabama State Teachers College, but dropped out to care for her ailing grandmother. It was not until she was 21 that she earned a high school diploma.

Shy and soft-spoken, Mrs. Parks often appeared uncomfortable with the near-beatification bestowed upon her by blacks, who revered her as a symbol of their quest for dignity and equality. She would say that she hoped only to inspire others, especially young people, "to be dedicated enough to make useful lives for themselves and to help others."

She also expressed fear that since the birthday of Dr. King became a national holiday, his image was being watered down and he was being depicted as merely a "dreamer."

"As I remember him, he was more than a dreamer," Mrs. Parks said. "He was an activist who believed in acting as well as speaking out against oppression." She would laugh in recalling some of her experiences with children whose curiosity often outstripped their grasp of history: "They want to know if I was alive during slavery times. They equate me along with Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth and ask if I knew them."

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from tuneman7
Monday, October 31, 2005 - 21:25

Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

Rosa Parks has always been one of my personal heros.

A poor, uneducated woman from the South who refused to give up her seat, challeneged the establishment and the constitution of a nation.

I'm with the poster below who said she reminds him of those who stood up in the 80s. Reminds me of my sister who said "no" to more abuse by her grandfather and suffered horrifically because of it. But the truth got out and is getting out and as a result perhaps other children aren't being hurt. Perhaps other children have the opportunity for a better life.

Rosa Parks reminds me of every one who has stood up and, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, said that we will not go gentle into that good night, we will rage against the dying of the light. We will rage against the dying of the light that was the life of our friends. We will rage agains the dying of the light that is the truth of our own lives. And we will rage against the dying of the light of what our lives can and will be.

Rage on. ...
(reply to this comment)

From Lance
Tuesday, November 01, 2005, 02:27


Actually, I believe Thomas was being pejorative of those that were raging against the dying of the light, so to compare yourself to those characters isnít a good thing. Youíd probably do better to equate yourself to those characters who "do not go gentle into that good night." Since Thomas essentially labels those who rage as unfortunate and angry that they did not accomplish all they wanted in life. Where as those who simply "do not go gentle" were more steady in the resolution -much like Parks. (The following verses are not in proper order)

"Wise men at their end know that dark is right. Because their words forked no lightening, they do not go gentle into that good night."

"Wild men, who caught and sang the son in flight. Now learn, too late -they grieve it on its way, do not go gentle into that good night."

Both of these characters took and gave the most that they could give before their time came, and though they didnít want to die, you get the sense that they fought a good fight. Whereas:

"Old age should burn and rage at close of day, Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

"Good men, the last wave by crying how bright their frail deeds might have danced on a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Grave men, near death -who see with blinding sight. Blind eyes that blaze, like meteors and be gay, Rage, Rage against the dying of the light."

In the first verse here you get the feeling that these men were expecting more; they expected their good deeds would build them a better life. And now in death, they see it all as useless.

The second verse it great! That last moments, when old age is about to take you and you canít help but look back at your life and see all those things that you wished you wouldíve done better. All these verses here are feelings of regret

And finally the last verse:

"And you my father -there on that sad height. Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

I donít know really what this verse means. But I get the impression that he hasnít had a good relationship with his father and he wants just a few more moments. Heís telling his father to not go gentle, because he has some unfinished business. Therefore he wants him to fight against it.

I have way too much time on my hands. (reply to this comment

From tuneman7
Tuesday, November 01, 2005, 07:17


Thanks my friend.

A beautiful poem.

Dylan Thomas' father was a military man in his younger years and actually very robust through most of his life. He was admired for his ferocity and militance. In his eighties he began to go blind and became a weaker, softer type of man.

Dylan seems to have been disturbed to see his father in this weakened or gentler state. In the poem he is pleading with his father to continue to be the fierce man that he had previously been despite the fact that the light was dying in him (he was going blind and dying).

It's a beautiful poem any way you look at it. And people derive their own meaning from it. I've always loved the lines, "Do not go gentle into that good night." as well as, "Rage against the dying of the light."

Never go down without a fight is what I take from it.

Fight for yourself. Fight for those you care about and fight for the truth.

Rage on my literary brother. Let us not go gentle into this good night, my friend!

(reply to this comment

From Lance
Tuesday, November 01, 2005, 02:28

Ooops, it's Sun, not Son. (reply to this comment
From Lance
Monday, October 31, 2005, 22:19


You have good tastes in poetry my friend. Dylan Thomas is one of my all time favorites.

(Second verse)And Death shall have no diminion,

Under the windings of the sea.

They lying long shall not die windily.

Twisting on racks when sinews give way;

Strapped to a wheel they shall not break.

Faith in their hands, shall snap in two.

And the unicorn evils run them threw.

Split all ends up, they shant crack.

And death shall have no dominion.

I typed it from memory so I don't know if I got it right. But it's poignant nonetheless.

Rage on my good brother!(reply to this comment

from We Shall Overcome
Monday, October 31, 2005 - 20:15

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

I am taking the liberty of reposting the following comment which got stuck in the trailer park with the thread it was under.

From ErikMagnusLehnsher
Saturday, October 29, 2005, 09:10


A couple of days removed from my angry post I acknowledge that I might have over-reacted. I now see that the statements made were less hateful than they were insensitive. It was more like a 13 year old showing at up a funeral and showing off his Chris Tucker impersonation for his cousins. There's not an evil intent, just a lack of sensitivity or good timing (of course you still feel like telling him to STFU), I'm not here to make enemies and had there been an actual screen name associated with the statements that angered me BEFORE I posted, I might have reacted differently.

Having learned something about American history not-according-to-Berg I have come to respect many people from the Civil Rights era. I think I immediately associated their struggle for freedom with ours.

With regard to Rosa Parks, I always associated her with some of us who were teens in mid 80's (along with me) who figuratively refused to give up their seat in the bus by questioned ridiculous rules and doctines, were not intimidated and subsequently often suffered for it. I tend to think that had it not been for the courage of some of them, things might still be as bad for young people in TF now as they were back then. I should add at this point that I generally meekly surrendered my seat when requested to do so by the white bus driver but I witnessed acts of "civil disobedience" with awe. Often this type of young person, due to their capacity for thinking, ended up leaving TF and at the time and was viciously villified for doing so.

When I read or hear a statement from today's version of a Family teen (the trendy web-surfing, Charter rights-aware, "my conclusion"-posting, cool-clothes-wearing, free-thinking dude) like: "I wish those ex-members would stop whining about their recycled stories of abuse" I feel like grabbing them by the collar and saying, "Listen, muchafucka! Many of the rights in TF that you take for granted today exist because of some 'ex-member' who fought for them and often suffered severely. So have some fucking respect. Stay in the Family if you want but have some fucking respect."

So I guess I'm projecting a lot onto the Rosa Parks issue and and I guess even an academic apologist/insensitive ass like myself has "triggers". :)
(reply to this comment)

From sailor
Monday, October 31, 2005, 20:20

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
I'm sorry for my posting, I wasn't thinking at all, it was a bad joke. (reply to this comment
from all the goss...
Saturday, October 29, 2005 - 02:24


...and Hillary Clinton was born on a 26 October (one of my personal hero's, sorry heroines), Kelly Osborne on the 27th, and on the 28th it looks like like good ol' Joaquin Phoenix blew out a couple of candles on his candy cake...

catch all the news here on

(reply to this comment)

from lisa
Friday, October 28, 2005 - 00:20

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Thank you for posting this, I thought it was very intresting. I didn't know anything further about her then that she haden't stood up. She was an amazing women. I'd love to be like her.
(reply to this comment)
from stop posting boring garbage we've already read
Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 16:44

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