Today is Rosa Parks‘ 100th birthday… She has long been considered the mother of the Civil Rights Movement and for the most part that’s true..This was the sister whose act of defiance on December 1st 1955 set off the Montgomery Bus Boycott.. Unfortunately what’s been downplayed his her courage and the fact that she was not somebody who simply refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man at the height of Jim Crow..
Parks had planned it out and was looking to push the envelope and fight for change.. She was not someone willing to just go along with the program and call it a day.. and that’s important to note.. Parks was an activist. She had linked up with the Highlander School in Tennessee where activists are trained to this day to fight racial injustice.. She was also the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.
Below is a clip from 1956 where Rosa Parks is breaking down what she did and why..
There is a nice write up on Rosa Parks in last week’s New York Times that focuses on a new book about her called “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” by Jeanne Theoharis. here’s an excerpt from that article…which can be found HERE
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.”
It’s sad to note that for many in recent generations came to know Ms Parks because of two controversies. The first was when popular rap group Outkast did a song using her name and Ms Parks and her people objected. She didn’t appreciate the language and thought it had nothing to do with her and her work. The group said it was their way of paying homage.
A lawsuit was filed against Outkast and their label and was later dismissed. Famed attorney Johnny Cochran got involved and took the case on appeal.. The US 6th district court upheld the earlier decision of dismissal.. Another case was filed this time Parks asked for 5 Billion dollars in damages.
It was at that point that members of Park’s family intervened and spoke up noting that they felt Rosa who was starting to suffer from dementia was being used by lawyers and handlers who were trying to make a quick buck. They said Rosa would never go all out to ruin the lives of young people like Big Boi and Andre 3000.. The entire issue eventually got settled out of court in April 2005, with group members agreeing to do work for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for self Development.
The second controversy popped off when the movie Barbershop came out and the character played by comedian Cedric the Entertainer made a joke saying Rosa Parks was tired.. and didn’t really do much but sit ‘her Black ass’ down.. That got many Civil Rights leaders heated. They felt a line had been crossed and Rosa’s legacy was tarnished.
We hope as we look back at Rosa Park’s 100 birthday folks take time to dig deep and understand that she was someone who truly loved her people and did what many refused to do, step up and make noise with the intent of bringing about a brighter tomorrow. As we reflect on her life and times.. we should be asking ourselves who is the future Rosa Parks.. Who is set to take fight for justice to the next level the way she did back in 1955?