Rosa Parks- "The Symbol of the Civil Rights Movement" & "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement"
After the death of Rosa Parks, I found myself inexplicably ambivalent about the accolades given her as well as her selection to 'Lie in State' in the U.S. Capitol. There just seemed to be no logical reasoning behind my inner, troubled feelings. Then, after a good deal of internal wrestling and external reading, at last came the dawn. All honors given to and spoken of Mrs. Parks are absolutely fitting. I often become teary-eyed with emotion when people honor other people in this way. I am in total agreement with the honors given this wonderful woman. It is the 'honorers' that trouble me so.
When Rosa Parks is referred to as 'the symbol', or as the symbolic 'mother' of the Civil Rights Movement, she has been stripped of her humanity and has become an object; the ball with which the game is played. We must differentiate Rosa Parks, the person, from rosa parks, the political piece of meat.
Rosa Parks real greatness did not begin with her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on that Montgomery bus in 1955. Her greatness was already established, but not as yet well known. Dr. Martin Luther King, new to Montgomery in 1955, stated that, "Mrs. Parks, ... was regarded as one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest Negro citizens—but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery." Parks was securely married, employed, possessed a quiet demeanor and was politically savvy.1
In her work with youth, all would have said, "Mrs. Parks said always do what was right."2
As her life unfolded,
"Parks has met many renowned leaders and has traveled throughout the world receiving honors and awards for her efforts toward racial harmony. She is appreciative and honored by them but exhibits little emotion over whom she has met or what she has done. Her response to being called "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" is modest. "If people think of me in that way, I just accept the honor and appreciate it," she says. In Quiet Strength, however, Parks is careful to explain that she did not change things alone. "Four decades later I am still uncomfortable with the credit given to me for starting the bus boycott. I would like [people] to know I was not the only person involved. I was just one of many who fought for freedom.""3
"Despite the violence and crime in our society, we should not let fear overwhelm us. We must remain strong."4
These are outward expressions of a woman of high character.
But there are also statements and actions made or taken by Mrs. Parks that to which I am diametrically opposed:
"And this young man that's taking over the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume, I admire him a great deal,"5
About Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Black Muslims, she says, "Well, I don't know him personally, but I think it was great that he spearheaded the million man march."6
In August 1994, Parks was attacked in her home by a young man who wanted money from her. Of the event, she writes, "I pray for this young man and the conditions in our country that have made him this way."7 (emphasis mine)
She served as a member of the Board of Advocates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.8
No problem. I can still celebrate and honor fully the life of the person, Rosa Parks.
The symbol, rosa parks, began as soon as the seating incident occurred.
"On Monday, December 5, 1955,... 50 leaders of the African American community, headed by Dr. King, gathered to discuss the proper actions to be taken as a result of Mrs. Parks' arrest. E.D. Nixon said, "My God, look what segregation has put in my hands!" Parks was the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws."9 (emphasis mine)
From person to symbol... but like this post-for-nerds by Lance Burri, it was a strategic move, a trade off, for the 'good of the many'. So perhaps not really so bad.
Nonetheless, as the symbol arose and Rosa declined things would occur that prompted this particular response from Rosa's niece:
"...Parks' niece, Rhea McCauley, said in an Associated Press interview. "As a family, our fear is that during her last days Auntie Rosa will be surrounded by strangers trying to make money off of her name."10(emphasis mine)
This final illustration really brought the idea home to me. The fact is that Rosa Parks was not the first to do this sort of thing in resisting segregation on public transportation. Jackie Robinson was court martialled for the same offense in 1944.11 Irene Morgan's refusal in 1945 caused the Supreme Court to overturn state segregation laws in interstate bus travel.12 Claudette Colvin, a 15 year old, refused to give up her seat in March 1955 in Montgomery, but the local NAACP decided that she was 'an unsuitable symbol' for their case.13
None of that diminishes Rosa Parks' courageous actions one iota, however. but THIS just says it all about the present day use of the symbol:
"A scene in the 2002 film Barbershop, where characters discuss earlier instances of African-Americans refusing to give up their bus seats, caused activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to launch a boycott against the film. The scene showed a barber arguing that many other African Americans before Parks had resisted giving up their seats; but because of her status as an NAACP secretary, she received undeserved fame."14 (emphasis mine)
For Sharpton and Jackson the transformation of Rosa Parks into the symbol rosa parks is complete. For those and all like them, she (it) serves only to promote their narcissistic self-promotions.
Now, I am freed from all ambivalence. I can joyously celebrate the life of Rosa Parks, but also hope such usage of the 'Symbol of the Civil Rights Movement' rots in Hell.