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Rosa Parks, Hail to Thee!

Publication Date: 2008-07-30

July 30, 2008

Where is the national organization urging teachers "Don't give the test."

How can we teach about Rosa Parks and other historical icons but steadfastly ignore the principles they espoused?

We need to break the bonds of teachers thinking something about NCLB will "just happen." No, it won't unless and until teachers make it happen.

Don't drink the tea.
Don't ride the bus.
Don't give the test.

Don't drink the tea
Don't ride the bus
Don't give the test

Montgomery, Alabama--The Troy University Rosa Parks Museum is located on the side
of the old Empire Theatre where this courageous African-American woman declined to
"move to the back of the bus" in 1955.

A visit to the museum honoring her and other civil rights champions is a sobering
reminder of just how courageous such a refusal was in that very segregated South.
Mrs. Parks was promptly arrested and thus was launched the historic Montgomery Bus
Boycott, which is credited with igniting the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

What most people do not know about Rosa Parks is that she was a trained civil rights
worker who knew the significance of staying in her front seat and not giving it up
to a white man. But she could not have predicted what happened after the police took
her away.

Four days after she was arrested, the bus boycott started on December 5, 1955. A
flyer distributed on that date by the Women?s Political Council of Montgomery noted
the arrest of Mrs. Parks and two teenage "Negro" women--Claudette Colvin and Mary
Louise Smith--who earlier that year were arrested and fined for refusing to give up
their seats.

The flyer went on to urge "every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of
the arrest and trial. Don't ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere
on Monday." They stayed off in the thousands.

Since three-fourths of the Montgomery bus riders were "Negroes," the growing boycott
grew to become a serious economic drain on the bus company. As it grew, and as the
accompanying street marches and demonstrations started, the national news media
began to cover it and a young charismatic minister by the name of Martin Luther

Sam Cook was at the Museum during our visit. He had a scrapbook of old newspaper
clippings and photographs from those heady days when he occasionally was a driver
for Rev. King.

In addition to the Museum?s timelines of history, artifacts, documents and
memorabilia?there is a replica of the public bus on which Mrs. Parks was
sitting--there are classrooms and a library to enhance the serious educational
purposes for today that the Museum's staff espouses.

The new Children's Wing conveys to youngsters that "things just don't happen in
history--people make things happen. Visitors come to realize that they, too, can make
a difference just as Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, Joanne Robinson, Fred Gray, Claudette
Colvin, Georgia Gilmore and many others made a difference following in the footsteps
of Dred Scott, Harriet Tubman, Homer Plessy and others who had gone before."

Students today in Montgomery and other southern cities might wonder what all the
fuss was about from white folk. The races mix easily in this city on buses, in
stores, restaurants, cinemas, schools, hospitals and ballparks. Race, like class,
still matters a great deal throughout the United States; but there has been
undeniable progress.

The contemporary struggles for justice can learn from the ways the civil rights
movement overcame a media boycott and moved hitherto immovable forces.

To be sure, it used the courts, and the streets with non-violent demonstrations. But
never underestimate the personal story of an individual who heroically and
selflessly takes on the Machine to spark the requisite rage and empathy that leads
to larger and larger numbers of similarly situated people who swell the ranks of
those demanding change or reform.

So powerful a model is this civil rights approach that when Mubarek Awad, a
Palestinian-American youth counselor in Palestine?s West Bank tried to organize
nonviolent civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation and repression, the
Israeli government deported him in 1988 back to the United States. He proceeded to
establish the group, Non-violence International, but he is still banned from Israel.

Commercial or labor strikes as a form of political protest received the ire of the
Israelis. They would routinely break up strikes by cutting the locks on closed shops
or welding doors shut and fining the shop owners.

In our country, we need the Rosa Parks of rebellion against gas and drug prices,
home foreclosures, cruel prison conditions, huge up-front payments before entering
hospitals, junk, obesity-illness-producing food, and breakdowns in municipal

Each historic, citizen-moving movement has its own style and personality. Granted,
the mass media can be very picky indeed, as it has been with the soldiers who have
refused to return to the unconstitutional, illegal war-occupation in Iraq. The
heartfelt stories of these soldiers told at a recent ?Winter Soldiers? gathering
were not even covered by the New York Times or the television evening news. (But Amy
Goodman did on Democracy Now!)

One must believe there is always a way to produce the human spark for a broader
public morality and a deeper commitment to a more just society.

Rosa Parks, hail to thee!

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