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Rosa Parks


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 04:27 PM

Rosa Parks died today. Here is the obituary that will appear in tomorrow's Guardian.

According to legend, on December 1 1955, a tired black woman in Montgomery, Alabama, sat in the "for whites only" front section of a bus and started the civil rights movement. Rosa Lee Parks, who has died aged 92, never stopped explaining that this was not really what happened. Nonetheless she continued to be presented as a simple soul with tired feet - a condescending misinterpretation of a woman who was an experienced and respected campaigner for civil rights.

When Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, the state of Alabama was rigidly segregated. But her mother, a believer in equality and justice, brought her up to defy racism, telling her about her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards who had defied white racism. Determined that her daughter would be well educated, she also sent Rosa to Miss White's School for Girls. In this era educated black girls could work either as clerks or seamstresses and Rosa Parks became skilled in the latter. Years later she remembered how racism permeated the details of everyday life. Black women would be served last if they tried to buy new shoes; when they tried a hat on in a store the saleswoman would put a bag inside it.
In the early 1940s, Rosa Parks and her husband Raymond, a barber, whom she had married in 1932, became involved in the Montgomery branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) where she set up the youth council. The Montgomery NAACP chapter decided to take up segregation on public transport - continuing a long tradition of African American direct action on buses. Rosa Parks had been ejected from a bus in 1943 when she refused to enter through the back door, and became well known to drivers, who would sometimes refuse to let her on.

In the late 1940s the Alabama State Conference of NAACP branches was formed and Rose Parks became its first secretary. This brought her into contact with longstanding civil rights campaigners.

These included the labour leader A Philip Randolph, who was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters from 1925 to 1968. In 1941 he had led a march of 50,000 against unfair government and war industry employment practices, which resulted in the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Parks also knew Ella Baker, who had worked with the Young Negroes Cooperative League under the 1930s New Deal and then organised for the NAACP in the south, becoming field secretary in 1940. It was to be Ella Baker who later helped create the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), bringing ideas of non-violent direct action and collective leadership to a new generation.

There was continuity between the NAACP's work during the 1940s and the civil rights movement locally in Montgomery as well. Rosa Parks had worked closely with the local president of the NAACP in Montgomery, ED Nixon. He had also led the local Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters for 15 years and was president of the Progressive Democrats. The emergent civil rights movement was thus linked to a whole range of progressive labour and social movements, and individuals often took part in several organisations.

In the early 1950s people were coming to Nixon with their complaints and the idea of a boycott was in the air. The first mass bus boycott had occurred in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1953 and the same tactic was tried in Virginia with some success. In 1954 a group of professional black women in Montgomery, the Women's Political Council (WPC) led by Jo Ann Robinson, had protested to the mayor about segregation on the buses, telling him that feeling was so strong that 25 local organisations were discussing a boycott.

Then, early in 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was dragged off a bus and arrested. The NAACP was ready to take up her case. Inspired by the great victory against segregation in education, which had been won in 1954 with the Supreme Court Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka decision, they wanted to challenge the law. However Colvin turned out to be pregnant and they knew this would bring bad publicity.

Rosa Parks in contrast, was married, respectable, quiet and dignified. She understood local politics and, moreover, had been encouraged by a white civil rights campaigner Virginia Durr, whose husband acted as a lawyer for the NAACP, to attend the Tennessee Highlander Folk school which taught courses on how to resist segregation.

Rosa Parks left Montgomery Fair, the department store where she did repairs on men's clothing, as usual on December 1. It was true that she was tired after work and pain in her shoulders, back and neck was troubling her. By chance the bus driver happened to be the very man who had forced her off the bus back in 1943. She did not, as myth would have it, sit in the whites-only front part, but sat beside a black man at the back. As more white people got on the driver told her to give up her seat. She refused.

"If you don't stand up, I'm going to call the police," he threatened. To which she replied: "You may do that."

Arrested, found guilty of violating the segregation law and fined, she consulted with her husband and her mother and decided that her arrest would serve as the test case. ED Nixon set about organising the boycott immediately. Jo Ann Robinson and Mary Fair Burks of the WPC announced her arrest to the students and teachers at Alabama State college, telling them that a boycott was being organised. They began mimeographing leaflets and getting them distributed. Nixon meanwhile contacted church leaders and progressive ministers, including Ralph Abernathy and EN French, who presented demands to the bus company on December 5. A coalition of local groups formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, which coordinated the boycott.

On the evening of December 5 thousands of people gathered at the Holt Street Baptist church where the young preacher Martin Luther King praised Rosa Parks as "one of the finest citizens of Montgomery" and called for action in protest against her arrest. His speech, which was televised, invoked American democracy, with biblical images of a righteous pilgrimage and a commitment to justice and equality for all. "We in Montgomery," he proclaimed, "are determined to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Ninety-eight per cent of Montgomery's black citizens participated in the boycott which lasted for 381 days. Nearly 100 people were arrested, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In January and February 1956, the houses of Nixon and King were bombed. The boycott spread to Tallahassee that May. On December 20, the Supreme Court supported the decision of a lower court and federal injunctions were served on the bus company officials to end segregation. Montgomery's buses were integrated on December 21 1956.

A great victory had been won. But Rosa Parks was sacked from her tailoring job and, in 1957 left Montgomery, following harassment, for Detroit. She later became a special assistant to Congressman John Conyers until her retirement in 1988.

In 1965 she was on the historic march through Montgomery when Martin Luther King called for a "march on poverty". And, on December 1 1995, the 40th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott was marked by a commemorative ceremony in her honour on the spot where she had been arrested.

She continued to be extremely active, travelling extensively to lecture on the civil rights movement and the social and economic problems that continued to face black Americans. In 1987 she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which aimed to help the young and educate them about civil rights. In October 1995 she addressed the Million Man March in Washington, in 1996 she toured the US and visited South Africa, and in 1999 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honour.

Her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, was published in 1992. Interviewed by Brian Lanker in a collection of portraits of black women who changed America, I Dream a World, she said: "My desires were to be free as soon as I learned that there had been slavery of human beings." She carried these desires for freedom with her throughout her life.

Her husband Raymond died in 1977.

· Rosa Lee (Louise) Parks, civil rights campaigner, born February 4 1913; died October 24 2005

http://www.guardian....1600274,00.html

#2 Len Colby

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 04:58 PM

Rosa Parks is perhaps the preeminent example of how a simple act by a simple person can change history.

I was born in North Carolina in 1965 and move to NYC with my mom and sister in 1970. My dad stayed in NC until 1981 so I visited the state frequently. One thing I notices is that is was far more common to see Blacks and Whites interacting socially in NC than in NYC. I believe before Rosa Parks refused to get out of her seat one would never see members of the two races speaking with each other in the South.

#3 Adam Wilkinson

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 12:09 PM

The body of Rosa Parks lies in honor at the Rotunda in Washington, the first woman to be given this honour and only the second African-American, she shares an honour bestowed upon the likes of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, what a fitting tribute for a woman who did so much for the American civil rights movement.

#4 Tim Gratz

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 12:34 PM

Amen, Adam, well put.

#5 John Simkin

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 12:49 PM

The body of Rosa Parks lies in honor at the Rotunda in Washington, the first woman to be given this honour and only the second African-American, she shares an honour bestowed upon the likes of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, what a fitting tribute for a woman who did so much for the American civil rights movement.


I see that right-wing politicians like George Bush are trying desperately to identify themselves with Rosa Parks. However, I would ask, where were you in the 1950s when she and millions of other black Americans were being treated as second-class citizens? Did you take part in those “Freedom Rides” where whites broke Jim Crow laws in an attempt to bring this disgrace to the world’s attention? The answer is no. Those whites were left-wingers who were denounced by the Republican Party as “communists” who were trying to undermine respect for "law and order". I find the hypocrisy of Bush and company sickening. That goes for Tim Gratz as well.

#6 Tim Gratz

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 01:08 PM

Who are you to judge me as a hypocrite, John?

For your information I was only a high school student while the civil rights movement of the sixties was going on. Moreover, I admit that though I was a strong supporter of civil rights, I was concerned that the introduction of white northerners into the South (the South called them "Northern agitators") would only increase Southern intransigence and indeed delay progress in civil rights. In my opinion, what really made progress was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But in retrospect it was the civil rights movement that showed the nation how bad things were and demonstrated the need for the legislation.

And by the way John another reason I am a Republican is because all the Southern racists like Bull Conners were Democrats. You claim the Republican Party called the civil rights workers "communists". That's just another Simkin lie. I challenge you to identify one Republican law-maker who branded the civil rights workers as "communists". That was the Southern Democrats, John. The same ones who supported Kennedy and Johnson in 1960.

I saw the Democrat Party in 1960 as composed in the North of corrupt big city bosses, with much support from organized crime, and in the South by racists. In fact, that was a large part of the coalition that elected JFK.

And, a bit parenthetically, the candidate I would most like to see the GOP nominate in 2008 happens to be black.

Edited by Tim Gratz, 31 October 2005 - 01:38 PM.


#7 John Simkin

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 01:49 PM

And by the way John another reason I am a Republican is because all the Southern racists like Bull Conners were Democrats. You claim the Republican Party called the civil rights workers "communists". That's just another Simkin lie. I challenge you to identify one Republican law-maker who branded the civil rights workers as "communists".


For a start, Barry Goldwater. It was of course the line taken by William F. Buckley, the man who founded that group that you joined, Young Americans for Freedom.

It is true that in the South the Democratic Party was dominated by racists. However, there were others like Ralph Yarborough, who was consistent in his support for civil rights.

It is also true that it was members of the Democratic Party in the North who played an important role in the Freedom Riders campaign. Others were members of left-wing organizations such as CORE. However, as far as I can discover, none were members of the Republican Party.

#8 Tim Gratz

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Posted 01 November 2005 - 05:24 AM

All right, John: cite a quotation from either Goldwater or William F. Buckley, Jr. to the effect that all (or most) civil rights workers were Communists.

Your saying so, without any citation, proves nothing.

I should add, and I presume you would agree, that there were some civil rights workers who were in fact Communist Party members.

But your original post clearly implied that Republicans denounced as Communists left-wing civil rights workers who were not in fact Communists, and attempted to so brand the entire movement.


Also re Southern racists, remember that Buckley helped to write extremists such as the Birchers out of the conservative movement, even though it could cost Goldwater political support. But the Northern Democrats, including Kennedy, were willing to and actively solicited the support of these Southern racists. I submit that the activities of the Southern racists were far more deleterious to our society (and to blacks in particular, of course) than the far-out ideas of the Birchers. To get in bed politically with the racists, in my opinion, effectively approves their ideas and activities. Not to say there were not some Democrats with the courage to stand up to the Southern racists. Hubert Humphrey comes to mind.

Edited by Tim Gratz, 01 November 2005 - 05:32 AM.


#9 Tim Gratz

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 06:54 AM

One should note that it has been twenty-four hours and John has not yet been able to document the remarks he attributed to Goldwater and Buckley.

I think I can demonstrate that there is no basis for close to half of the assertions John posts.

#10 John Simkin

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 08:57 AM

One should note that it has been twenty-four hours and John has not yet been able to document the remarks he attributed to Goldwater and Buckley.

I think I can demonstrate that there is no basis for close to half of the assertions John posts.


William Buckley’s belief that the civil rights movement was part of a communist conspiracy to undermine the American way of life was a common theme in the National Review. For examples of this see John B. Judis’ book, William F. Buckley: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, 1988 (pages, 56, 132, 139, 191, 209, 242, 268-69, and 308).


This was a common position of the far right in America, both in the North and South. It was of course the view of Barry Goldwater and the right-wing of the Republican Party. See for example Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, (page 447). I know you have a copy of this book because you advised me to buy it.

It was the reason why they opposed Richard Nixon’s as presidential candidate in 1960. He was associated with Dwight Eisenhower’s policy of upholding decisions made against racism made by the Supreme Court during his period as vice-president (1952-1960).

I would like to ask you a question. Can you name one right-wing Republican who campaigned for black civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s?

#11 Tim Gratz

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 06:08 AM

John wrote:

I would like to ask you a question. Can you name one right-wing Republican who campaigned for black civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Certainly, John. Richard Nixon. See Caro's "Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate."

Also Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Brownwell, who helped fashion the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. (Same source.)

Also Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Senate Republican leader who helped secure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This list is far from inclusive.

And frankly the fact that you were not aware of this demonstrates to me that you are either: 1) less than truthful; or 2) not as widely read on the politics of the 1950s and 1960s as you should be to be pontificating as you do. I think anyone who wants to understand the politics of those two decades ought to read Caro's magisterial multi-volume LBJ biographies as well as the Bechloss books on the LBJ tape transcripts. I prefer to attribute your post to ignorance rather than to dishonesty.

It's almost unbelievable, however, that you were not aware of Dirksen's seminal role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Here poor old me, you you have blasted as "having committed intellectual suicide" and "having an inferior intellect" knows those things, and YOU didn't???

Edited by Tim Gratz, 03 November 2005 - 08:01 AM.


#12 John Simkin

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 10:16 AM

John wrote:

I would like to ask you a question. Can you name one right-wing Republican who campaigned for black civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Certainly, John. Richard Nixon. See Caro's "Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate."

Also Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Brownwell, who helped fashion the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. (Same source.)


I said campaigned, not supported. As I pointed out earlier, it was because Eisenhower and Nixon went along with the Supreme Court’s decisions on segregation and discrimination that your friends, William Buckley and Robert Welch put is around that Eisenhower and Nixon were under the control of the communists. That is why Buckley and the Young Americans for Freedom campaigned for Barry Goldwater against Nixon in 1960 (when Goldwater dropped out of the race they supported William Knowland).


And frankly the fact that you were not aware of this demonstrates to me that you are either: 1) less than truthful; or 2) not as widely read on the politics of the 1950s and 1960s as you should be to be pontificating as you do. I think anyone who wants to understand the politics of those two decades ought to read Caro's magisterial multi-volume LBJ biographies as well as the Bechloss books on the LBJ tape transcripts. I prefer to attribute your post to ignorance rather than to dishonesty.


You have referred several times over the last few days questioning my skills as a historian. In my defence I would say that I have a degree in history, taught the subject for nearly 30 years, and have been the author of history books that have sold over 100,000 copies.

You are on the other-hand have a degree in law and worked as a lawyer until you were disbarred from the profession. Maybe you should explain why you are a disbarred lawyer. Has it got anything to do with not telling the truth?

#13 Tim Gratz

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 10:42 AM

John, I think your distinction between "campaigned for" and "supported civil rights legislation" is a distinction without a difference. If you had read Caro, you would have known that in 1956 Nixon had campaigned in Harlem promising to try to end the filibuster that the Southern democrat racists used to stop civil rights legislation.

My friends Buckley and Welch? You know darn well I was never a supporter of the John Birch Society. It's just another Simkin smear!! Just as you attempted to smear Buckley by implying he might have been involvedc in the assassination, until you backed off when Raymond Carroll pointed out how ridiculous that was. Your tactics put McCarthy to shame. Although I think most if not all Communists would lie for the Party cause, I do not think most (American anyway) Communists would necessarily murder even if ordered to do so. McCarthy, rightly or wrongly, accused people of being Communists. You have wrongfully accused people of being murderers! A far more serious false charge than anyone McCarthy ever made.

Edited by Tim Gratz, 03 November 2005 - 10:43 AM.


#14 John Simkin

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 11:58 AM

John, I think your distinction between "campaigned for" and "supported civil rights legislation" is a distinction without a difference. If you had read Caro, you would have known that in 1956 Nixon had campaigned in Harlem promising to try to end the filibuster that the Southern democrat racists used to stop civil rights legislation.


What you fail to grasp is that I am not a supporter of the Democratic Party. Nor would I be if I lived in the US. I find it difficult to understand how you cannot distinguish between support and campaigned. People campaign for things because they think the issue is very important. As with active supporters of Civil Rights, this meant risking their physical well-being by taking part in “freedom rides” etc. This is something that no right-wing Republican politicians did before the passing of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965.

It is true that Nixon told certain audiences that he was in favour of civil rights legislation. That is why he was hated by right-wing figures such as William Buckley. Nixon was not trusted by Buckley and his followers and was opposed by the right-wing (they supported William Knowland in 1960 Barry Goldwater in 1964).

Buckley pointed out in private correspondence in 1960 that he considered Kennedy to the right of Nixon. However, he was unwilling to endorse either candidate because he considered both of them as “unreliable” on the civil rights issue.

Nixon did move to the right after 1968. However, he was never accepted by the right-wing of the Republican Party. This view was reinforced by his failure to try and win the war in Vietnam (something he had promised the right he would do) and his willingness to have talks with China and the Soviet Union.


McCarthy, rightly or wrongly, accused people of being Communists. You have wrongfully accused people of being murderers! A far more serious false charge than anyone McCarthy ever made.


Maybe you could point out where on the Forum I have accused members of the Republican Party of being murderers. Then we can take a look at the evidence for these claims.

#15 Tim Gratz

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 12:28 PM

John, your post above seems better than the last. It deserves a comment and I had started a long one and touched the wrong button and the whole thing disappeared. This has happened to me before. Microsoft Word has a "reverse" key that can reverse such mistakes. Are you aware of any way to reverse an inadvertent reversal here? Any help you or any other member has would be appreciated.

For now, cheers!

One small initial comment: I do not think many Democrat politicians were actually civil rights workers, any more than Republican politicians went in the field and risked their lives. I could be wrong about this and if so I assume someone will correct me if I am.

Most of the civil rights workers (at least those from the North) were Democrats or socialists (at least I think this to be the case).

However, perhaps you can identify the party affiliation of the first black member of a President's cabinet and the party affiliation first of the first black man elected to the U.S. Senate. And for extra credit: the identity and race of the man G. Gordon Libby regularly calls "the smartest man in the United States".



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