Rosa Parks was clearly a great woman, one who played an important and positive role in recent history. She did so despite harassment and death threats (which played a part in her husband having a nervous breakdown, and eventually forced the family to relocate to Detroit).
Without in any way taking away from the courage of her stand, it is important that people realize that she was one of many, and that in fact her prominence was the result of contradictory tendencies and agendas at the time. We can see that this is the case simply by comparing the praise for Parks from the United States establishment with the vengeful hostility reserved those New Afrikan political prisoners and prisoners of war still suffering political incarceration as the result of the stand they took. A particularly painful example of this neo-colonial ideology could be seen in the pages of The Montreal Gazette this morning, where an editorial headline read “Rosa Parks paved way for [Condoleeza] Rice”…
The following is an excerpt from pages 102-107 of The Military Strategy of Women and Children (http://www.kersplebedeb.com/tmsowac/), by Amazon theorist Butch Lee:
Rosa Parks is a woman that everyone thinks they know about. In one day she made Civil Rights history by her act of deliberate defiance on the evening of December 1,1955, when she refused to yield her seat on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus. Now schoolchildren all over amerikkka are taught about her.
In 1990, she was celebrated at a giant “black tie and gown” benefit dinner for her foundation. 3,000 affluent people, from congresswomen to university presidents, came to pay tribute. Cicely Tyson was the m.c., while Dionne Warwick and Lou Rawls sang. Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers performed a song composed in her honor: “Thank you, Miss Rosa/ You are the spark/ That started our Freedom movement.”
So lofty is her place in history that even the racist Washington Post threw uncommon praise upon her.
“But, as the parade of stars and social leaders said loudly and clearly during the celebration last night of Rosa Park’s 77th birthday at the Kennedy Center, her defiance was such a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement that the grand status of matriarch is hers alone.”
Yet & again, how many women pay tribute to the other Black women who really did what Rosa Parks is famous for? Long before December 1, 1955, the New Afrikan community in Montgomery, Alabama had seethed under the public humiliation not only of being segregated in the back of the bus, but of having to yield their seats on demand to white passengers. Segregation, which was only an outward form of colonialism, was not merely a seating plan. New Afrikans were attacked and degraded everyday on the buses. It was common for the white bus drivers to contemptuously throw transfers on the floor, so that Black passengers had to get down to pick them up. Or bypass bus stops with waiting New Afrikans on rainy days because the drivers said they were “wet and smelly”.
Black women who didn’t act slavish enough or who snuck into “white” seats were called names like “Black bitch”, “heifers”, “nigger whore” (isn’t it a measure of how successful capitalism’s genocide program is that many Black men are proud to degrade Black women using the language first invented by the most racist white men?). Those New Afrikans who resisted were beaten up and arrested—or, in one 1952 case involving a drunk man who talked back, taken off the bus by police and executed right on the spot.
New Afrikan women were pushing the matter to a confrontation. There were more individual cases of spontaneous defiance. In 1953, Mrs. Epsie Worthy refused a bus driver’s demand that she pay an additional fare before leaving the bus, and then had to defend herself when he came at her with his fists swinging. In the punch-up, she more than held her own, but had to surrender when the police came. The Women’s Political Council, which had three chapters of one hundred members each (their size limit so that members of each group could really know each other), had started compiling individual complaints and planning a bus boycott. It was the Black women of the W.P.C. —schoolteachers, college employees, church activists, nurses—who later in 1955 were to issue the actual call for the Bus Boycott, secretly preparing and anonymously mass distributing thousands of leaflets to mobilize the community.
On March 2, 1955—eight months before Rosa Parks got arrested—a Montgomery bus driver on the Dexter Avenue line ordered four Black women to give up their seats so that whites could sit down. Two obeyed, but two pretended not to hear him. He called for the police, who got one Black man to stand up and give his seat to one of the two holdouts. But the last Black woman, who was pregnant, refused to budge and was arrested. Handcuffed, resisting, crying & cursing at the police, she was dragged from the bus.
The New Afrikan community leadership, including the ministers and the Women’s Political Council, quickly began exploring this as a test case to mobilize a concerted attack on colonialism. After much discussion, E. D. Nixon, the patriarch of the Alabama locals of the Sleeping Car Porters Union and Montgomery’s main civil rights leader, decided against it. The woman was not respectable enough, he judged. She was “immature”, a high school student, rowdy and defiant, and—worst of all— she was preg without being married. Nixon decided the battle had to wait until there was a more respectable defendant.
In October of that same year, a second New Afrikan woman refused a white bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white woman, and was arrested. Again, New Afrikan women got ready to launch the long-awaited struggle. But, once again, E. D. Nixon decided that the sister who resisted wasn’t a good enough woman. That time his objection was that the young woman was too low-class. Angry and poor, she lived with her alcoholic father in a shack outside the city.
There was dissent at this thinking among New Afrikan women, especially from the Women’s Political Council. They started saying that the issue wasn’t how “respectable” any arrested Black woman was, but putting colonialism itself on trial. Freedom was the issue, they said, and Nixon and other men should realize that. Under criticism, unable to stall any longer, E. D. Nixon finally turned to his closest supporter in the local NA.A.C.P. She was a “respectable” woman by his standards: employed at a skilled trade, not too poor, an N.A.A.C.P. officer and the supervisor for the city’s N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. Her name was Rosa Parks.
It takes nothing away from Rosa Parks’ courage and years of dedication to see that she was not the first, not the catalyst, but instead was the symbol reluctantly chosen by men for a struggle that other New Afrikan woman had already started months and even years before. It was fighting women, who weren’t “respectable”, who were “too hot, too Black” for the men of the civil rights movement, who first broke the chains and opened the way. Not just in Montgomery, but all over New Afrika. Now unknown, on purpose not by accident. Why not call them X?
Categories: feminism, history, racism