Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"I'd like people to say I'm a person who always wanted to be free and wanted it not only for myself; freedom is for all human beings." Rosa Parks

I feel saddened and inspired anew, thinking about the death of one of the world's most influential and dedicated activists, Rosa Parks. Her passing was particularly poignant, having recently been discussing the work of Parks and the other women who launched the Montgomery bus boycott with my Women's Studies class on African-American women in the civil rights movement. It weighed on the class Tuesday, along with the death of Vivian Jones last week. I am glad to see that the re-creation of Parks after her death seems to be at least slightly more accurrate than her usual representation in the last several decades, where she was frequently depicted as a tired woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man because her feet hurt. Some reporters seem to be finally acknowledging her for the true activist she was. From being one of the first people in her area to join the NAACP, to her time spent at the Highlander Folk School, to her leadership as secretary and youth leader of her local NAACP chapter, Parks was a dedicated leader and torch-bearer for the civil rights movement. Likewise, it is important to remember the contributions of other women who aren't acknowledged as leaders in the movement. Without the leadership, daring, and organization of Jo Ann Robinson and the Women's Political Council, it is likely that Parks' arrest would have gone by only noticed by her local African-American community, not the whole country. There were women who came before her, suffering for refusing to give up their seats, and women fighting other particular struggles elsewhere, like Vivian Jones and the desegregation of the University of Alabama. Like so many of the most important and effective moments and actions of the Civil Rights Movement, women were the leaders and creators who brought the boycott to life. Rosa Parks and Vivian Jones were two of the many remarkable, accomplished, and hugely important leaders in the Movement, and they'll be missed.

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