Fifty five years ago today, Rosa Parks got herself booted off a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, some say deliberately, sparking the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and leading to millions of citizens of this country, including me, being able to sit anywhere they please on public transportation. Go Rosa!
While Rosa is credited with this moment, which is viewed passively – in terms of what she did not do, the faces and the stories of the very active Civil Rights Movement are largely male- generating a spotlight for men who would go on to become big names and players on the national scene and in history – Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Reverend Ralph Abernathy, to name a few.
Danielle McGuire’s book At The Dark End of the Street, which is excellent by the way, paints an even more feisty and, if it’s possible, even more inspiring portrait of Rosa Parks as a radical activist in the Civil Rights Movement, a skilled investigator into the sexual exploitation of black women by white men. Rosa was so fierce that her activities had to be toned down so that she could become the unassailable figurehead and symbol used to galvanize people into action regarding civil rights for blacks in the United States.
In the Thanksgiving Edition of the Underground Literary Society, Amy and I talked about the myth making surrounding the history of our country, and speculated on whether it would be better to be more honest about our past as we indoctrinate our children into it. It’s amazing to me the sheer amounts of innocuous “history” that I learned that later pops out with fangs and teeth.
Rosa Parks was smart, fearless, and at the vanguard of amazing change. It makes me a little sad that for the most part she is defined as a woman whose role was solely, not to stand up. As tremendous as that was in time when such acts could end in emotional abuse, physical violence or death, she was so much more, as were so many other women whose contributions to the Civil Rights Movement are not recognized because of the patriarchy in effect at the time – patriarchy that is still a controlling factor in the way history is interpreted and presented.
The Civil Rights Movement was a success because of the leadership of many, and many were women. And one such leader was Rosa Parks. Just sayin’.
I am so grateful to have learned more about Rosa. Can you think of others whose histories are incomplete? What would you want people to know about them?