The way this story is typically retold in the media implies Rosa Parks was the first person to ever defy Jim Crow, which is of course untrue. The significant part was the organized boycott after the arrest.
Part of the reason why Parks became known while Colvin was pushed aside was that she was younger, didn’t look “middle class” enough and became pregnant after her fight began in regards to Jim Crow laws. Parks was a better person to put in front of America for PR purposes, and while i dont begrudge how it all went down we need to give thanks and not forget Claudette Colvin.
The typical story also portrayed her as a random Black person who just wanted to sit down after a long day of work and accidentally became a civil rights icon. In fact, she’d been involved in activist groups like the NAACP for more than a decade and was well-educated about what should have been her rights. While she was undoubtedly physically tired after work, she was more exhausted by the acquittal of Emmett Till’s murderers four days earlier and having to continue to put up with this racist BS.
Two months ago I was playing Taboo, and my partner in the game guessed Rosa Parks just from me saying “She wouldn’t go to the.”
That seems like a pretty good measure of how much of an impact she had.
I’ve been on that bus!
Can…can we start throwing avowed racists under it?
This is one of the things I’m still angriest about regarding my high school education. They went even further and painted her as an older tired lady who just individually and apolitically decided that she shouldn’t have to get up for a young man.
This white people BS was taught around freaking MLK day, which my private school didn’t have off as a holiday, supposedly because the man himself would have preferred students to go to school and have a whole day dedicated to learning about civil rights and whatnot. 75% just taught regular classes, and the ones who did mention anything about civil rights just recited from memory this kind of racist folklore. Finally one young teacher put up a fuss one year and then we all heard about how the entire school itself was created by an almost entirely white Episcopalian Church fellowship in the 70’s as a response to busing. So yeah, I’d have learned as much about civil rights staying home watching mtv all day.
It’s a capitalist narrative that reduces the community struggle of many people to the action of one person. And racism was banished forever on that day.
You won’t hear the KKK or Nazis complaining much about Rosa Parks. They like the idea that you have to be that exceptional person who can afford to brave violence and economic ruin to get reform. Most people can’t.
This is not to belittle her achievements at all. She was a hero. The real story of progress is told by the slow, painful grind of many anonymous sufferers.
It’s a three and a half minute pop song praising someone even you acknowledge as a hero. Slow painful grinds didn’t tend to get much play on BET. (Not the painful ones anyway.)
Rosa Parks wasn’t the first, and she certainly wasn’t the last, but she is and will always be a Civil Rights’ icon.
Thanks be to our predecessors and all those who have come before us, fighting the good fight; refusing to just give up, or give in.
The detail I just learned about the fine-grained pettiness of Jim Crow decorum was:
Parks wasn’t even sitting in the white section. She was sitting in the first row of the colored section. A white person wanted to sit, but, with all the white rows being full, Parks was being made to move further back into the colored section.
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