The Living Legacy of Rosa Parks

by RALPH NADER

Montgomery, Alabama.

The Troy University Rosa Parks Museum is located on the side of the old Empire Theatre where this courageous African-American woman declined to “move to the back of the bus” in 1955.

A visit to the museum honoring her and other civil rights champions is a sobering reminder of just how courageous such a refusal was in that very segregated South. Mrs. Parks was promptly arrested and thus was launched the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is credited with igniting the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

What most people do not know about Rosa Parks is that she was a trained civil rights worker who knew the significance of staying in her front seat and not giving it up to a white man. But she could not have predicted what happened after the police took her away.

Four days after she was arrested, the bus boycott started on December 5, 1955. A flyer distributed on that date by the Women’s Political Council of Montgomery noted the arrest of Mrs. Parks and two teenage “Negro” women—Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith—who earlier that year were arrested and fined for refusing to give up their seats.

The flyer went on to urge “every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday.” They stayed off in the thousands.

Since three-fourths of the Montgomery bus riders were “Negroes,” the growing boycott grew to become a serious economic drain on the bus company. As it grew, and as the accompanying street marches and demonstrations started, the national news media began to cover it and a young charismatic minister by the name of Martin Luther King.

Sam Cook was at the Museum during our visit. He had a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings and photographs from those heady days when he occasionally was a driver for Rev. King.

In addition to the Museum’s timelines of history, artifacts, documents and memorabilia—there is a replica of the public bus on which Mrs. Parks was sitting—there are classrooms and a library to enhance the serious educational purposes for today that the Museum’s staff espouses.

The new Children’s Wing conveys to youngsters that “things just don’t happen in history—people make things happen. Visitors come to realize that they, too, can make a difference just as Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, Joanne Robinson, Fred Gray, Claudette Colvin, Georgia Gilmore and many others made a difference following in the footsteps of Dred Scott, Harriet Tubman, Homer Plessy and others who had gone before.”

Students today in Montgomery and other southern cities might wonder what all the fuss was about from white folk. The races mix easily in this city on buses, in stores, restaurants, cinemas, schools, hospitals and ballparks. Race, like class, still matters a great deal throughout the United States; but there has been undeniable progress.

The contemporary struggles for justice can learn from the ways the civil rights movement overcame a media boycott and moved hitherto immovable forces.

To be sure, it used the courts, and the streets with non-violent demonstrations. But never underestimate the personal story of an individual who heroically and selflessly takes on the Machine to spark the requisite rage and empathy that leads to larger and larger numbers of similarly situated people who swell the ranks of those demanding change or reform.

So powerful a model is this civil rights approach that when Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian-American youth counselor in Palestine’s West Bank tried to organize nonviolent civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation and repression, the Israeli government deported him in 1988 back to the United States. He proceeded to establish the group, Non-violence International, but he is still banned from Israel.

Commercial or labor strikes as a form of political protest received the ire of the Israelis. They would routinely break up strikes by cutting the locks on closed shops or welding doors shut and fining the shop owners.

In our country, we need the Rosa Parks of rebellion against gas and drug prices, home foreclosures, cruel prison conditions, huge up-front payments before entering hospitals, junk, obesity-illness-producing food, and breakdowns in municipal services.

Each historic, citizen-moving movement has its own style and personality. Granted, the mass media can be very picky indeed, as it has been with the soldiers who have refused to return to the unconstitutional, illegal war-occupation in Iraq. The heartfelt stories of these soldiers told at a recent “Winter Soldiers” gathering were not even covered by the New York Times or the television evening news. (But Amy Goodman did on Democracy Now!)

One must believe there is always a way to produce the human spark for a broader public morality and a deeper commitment to a more just society.

Rosa Parks, hail to thee!

RALPH NADER is running for president as an independent.

 

 


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”