Rosa Parks

For some of you, this will be old news.  But it goes so strongly against the two main Rosa Parks narratives that it seems worth posting.  The story I was first told was that Parks was simply tired and didn’t want to stand up, and she unwittingly sparked the bus boycotts.  Then I was told that it was all carefully planned and she was simply carrying out the orders of the movement.  These two stories have in common that they, in different ways, erase crucial elements of Parks’s agency.  She was in fact very politically sophisticated and a part of the movement already.  She wasn’t physically tired: “the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”  But her action was unplanned, and she had no idea that it would actually have the effects that it did (as she’d begun to be frustrated with the lack of action by others: “I simply did it because I thought nobody else would do anything” ).  For more, go here.

2 thoughts on “Rosa Parks

  1. the most complete historical account of where this narrative came from (that i have seen) is in Danielle L. McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street, a history that reads the civil rights movement as a movement (primarily of women) organizing against sexual violence against women. it is an amazing account of the origins of the rosa parks mythology, which treats her as a tired old lady, rather than the radical garvey-ite lifelong organizer she was.

    the tl;dr is that a confluence of forces – desires in the movement to distance itself from communism, the better to use the oppression of black people to embarrass the nation as it fought communism abroad; the rise of the white citizen’s councils and backlash against earlier actions by the kkk leading to the reinforcement of the politics of respectability within the montgomery bus boycott; the history in labor organizing and leadership of e.d. nixon; the white political establishment focusing on the rev dr mlk jr as an outside agitator, and seeking to try him for the montgomery bus boycott (and several other leaders in the movement, including parks and joann robinson, joining him); the patriarchal structure of the black church; and an naacp mailer including a comic strip account of the montgomery bus boycott, thought to be the origin of the “tired feet’ mythology, and which credits king with basically every part of the complex operation of the boycott – all bring about the rosa parks mythology, a mythology that has continued up through samuel l. jackson’s use of it at the celebrations of president obama’s 2009 innauguration.

    read this book, it’s amazing.

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