People Places Events In History Terms Organizations
Home Invites Members Groups Events Careers Videos News Photos Blogs Polls Forums Chat
Home > Blogs > Post Content

ROSA PARKS, REVISTED (1691 hits)

By Charles M. Blow, NEW YORK TIMES, February 1, 2013 -- Most of what you think you know about Rosa Parks may well be wrong.

On the verge of the 100th anniversary of her birth this Monday comes a fascinating new book, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” by Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College professor. It argues that the romanticized, children’s-book story of a meek seamstress with aching feet who just happened into history in a moment of uncalculated resistance is pure mythology.

As Theoharis points out, “Rosa’s family sought to teach her a controlled anger, a survival strategy that balanced compliance with militancy.”

Parks was mostly raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather, a follower of Marcus Garvey, often sat vigil on the porch with a rifle in case the Klan came. She sometimes sat with him because, as the book says she put it, “I wanted to see him kill a Ku Kluxer.”

When she was a child, a young white man taunted her. In turn, she threatened him with a brick. Her grandmother reprimanded her as “too high-strung,” warning that Rosa would be lynched before the age of 20. Rosa responded, “I would be lynched rather than be run over by them.”

One of the most troubling and possibly most controversial scenes in the book occurs when Rosa is a young woman working as a domestic. A white man whom she calls “Mr. Charlie” tries to s*xually assault her. Determined to protect herself, she taunts him as she evades him, haranguing him about the “white man’s inhuman treatment of the Negro.”

“How I hated all white people, especially him,” she continued. “I said I would never stoop so low as to have anything to do with him.”

Parks added that “if he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body, he was welcome but he would have to kill me first.”

The author points out that although the story is recorded in Parks’s own handwriting, it isn’t clear whether it’s completely true, half true or just allegory.

Rosa married Raymond Parks, a civil rights activist who sometimes carried a gun and who impressed her because, she said, “he refused to be intimidated by white people.”

She spent nearly two decades before the bus incident struggling, organizing and agitating for civil rights, mostly as the secretary of the Montgomery, Ala., branch of the N.A.A.C.P. But it wasn’t until Parks was in her 40s and attended an integrated workshop that she found “for the first time in my adult life that this could be a unified society.” This didn’t mean that she was eager for integration, though. She was later quoted as saying that what people sought “was not a matter of close physical contact with whites, but equal opportunity.”

And Parks was by no means the first person to perform an act of civil disobedience on a bus. She was very much aware of many of the people whose similar actions had preceded her own, even raising money for some of their defense funds. She also encouraged others to commit these acts of civil disobedience.

Parks explained that “I had felt for a long time, that if I was ever told to get up so a white person could sit, that I would refuse to do so.”

That day came on Dec. 1, 1955, when a bus driver asked her to get up so that a white man could sit. She refused. This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was a political calculation informed by a life of activism. As Parks put it, “an opportunity was being given to me to do what I had asked of others.”

And the idea that she stayed seated because of physical fatigue is pure fiction.

“I didn’t tell anyone my feet were hurting,” the book quotes her as saying. “It was just popular, I suppose because they wanted to give some excuse other than the fact that I didn’t want to be pushed around.”

The book also lays out Parks’s leading role in the bus boycotts and her decades of activism after the civil rights movement.

When Parks died in 2005, Theoharis says, “The Rosa Parks who surfaced in the deluge of public commentary was, in nearly every account, characterized as ‘quiet.’ ‘Humble,’ ‘dignified,’ and ‘soft-spoken,’ she was ‘not angry’ and ‘never raised her voice.’ ”

Parks, like many other Americans who over the years have angrily agitated for change in this country, had been sanitized and sugarcoated for easy consumption.

As Theoharis writes: “Held up as a national heroine but stripped of her lifelong history of activism and anger at American injustice, the Parks who emerged was a self-sacrificing mother figure for a nation who would use her death for a ritual of national redemption.”

Fortunately, this book seeks to restore Parks’s wholeness, even at the risk of stirring unease.

The Rosa Parks in this book is as much Malcolm X as she is Martin Luther King Jr.

Happy Black History Month.
Posted By: Richard Kigel
Monday, February 4th 2013 at 12:15PM
You can also click here to view all posts by this author...

Report obscenity | post comment
Share |
Please Login To Post Comments...
Email:
Password:

 
The idea that she stayed seated because of physical fatigue is pure fiction.

“I didn’t tell anyone my feet were hurting,” she said. “It was just popular, I suppose because they wanted to give some excuse other than the fact that I didn’t want to be pushed around.”

Monday, February 4th 2013 at 12:16PM
Richard Kigel
More From This Author
SERENA WILLIAMS WINS QATAR OPEN TO RETAKE NUMBER ONE RANK
ROSA PARKS FEATURED ON NEW POSTAGE STAMP
THE REAL STORY OF THE MOST “LIKED” PHOTO OF ALL TIME
WILL WHITE VOTERS DOOM OBAMA?
MEET ROCHELLE BALLANTYNE, 17, FROM BROOKLYN, ON THE ROAD TO BECOMING BLACK FIRST FEMALE CHESS MASTER
S.N.L. ELECTS A NEW PRESIDENT: JAY PHAROAH TAKES OVER ROLE OF IMPERSONATING OBAMA
SERENA, FACING DEFEAT, PULLS OUT STUNNING VICTORY FOR HER FOURTH U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
THE MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: DISSECTING PROVOCATIVE ISSUES IS HER FORTE
Forward This Blog Entry!
Blogs Home
Employer Showcase
>> more | add
Latest Jobs
Lecturer in History with Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX.
College Production Assistant with W.W. Norton & Company in New York, NY.
32200 - Records Management Coordinator with Minnesota Department of Human Services in Anoka, MN.
Assistant Director, Residential Life with Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.
Academic Integration Specialist - Purdue University with Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.
>> more | add
Latest Member Activity
oliver crump just posted a post entitled 'the most romantic places for first sex'. 12:25PM
oliver crump just became a new member. 12:08PM
elly moss just commented on a blog entitled 'testing 1 2 3 can you hear me '. 11:20PM
elynor moss just commented on a blog entitled 'phil jackson in conversation with john salley'. 02:27PM
antonia cummins just commented on a blog entitled 'where are the friends.....'. 02:44AM
antonia cummins just became a new member. 02:43AM
elynor moss just posted a article entitled 'the secret history of south asian & african american solidarity'. 03:08PM
david johnson just became friends with elynor moss. 09:23PM
elynor moss just became friends with david johnson. 09:23PM
robert gamble just edited his profile. 09:21AM
david johnson just commented on a term entitled 'sundown town'. 06:49AM
barry smith just became a new member. 01:40PM
>> more | invite friends