Rosa Parks' Life:
A Call to Carry it On
February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005
MELVIN DICKSON / The Commemorator v.15, n.3, 1dec2005
[More on the Black Panther Party]
Rosa Parks' booking photo at the Montgomery, Alabama police station in 1954, after refusing to give up her seat on the bus.
Rosa Parks, a fighter for freedom and justice on behalf of exploited and oppressed people in her community and everywhere, died on Monday, October 24, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. Rosa Louise McCauley was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She married Raymond Parks in 1932. She was 92 when she died.
On May 2, 1980 Rosa Parks visited the Black Panther Party's Oakland Community School in Oakland, California where I had been assigned by the Party to coordinate the cafeteria, which fed three meals daily to over 200 children. The children of the Community School performed a play celebrating Parks' life and presented her with a bouquet of roses. The students performed the famous scene of December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks defied the bus driver by remaining seated and not giving up her seat an act of defiance against the Jim Crow laws — which set in motion forces that advanced the civil rights movement in the United States.
Bourgeois-induced popular culture would have us believe the idea that Ms. Parks' famous refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in the Jim Crow South in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 was an act of spontaneous individual rebellion on her part, and that this act started the "modem" civil rights movement. That version of history denies the truth of our struggle and the real lessons of Rosa Parks' life.
Rosa Parks was an organizer. Her strength lay in her knowledge and use of the strength of organization. She had participated in organizer training at the famed Highlander Folk School for activists. As early as 1932, Ms. Parks was involved in the movement with the Scottsboro Boys case, a case based on racial bias in which 9 black men were accused of raping two white women. As a result of a national organizing campaign, 4 of the men were acquitted and all but 1 of them were ultimately freed. Rosa Parks was also an NAACP official at the local (Montgomery) and state (Alabama) levels. She led voter registration campaigns as early as 1945.
Rosa Parks' refusal to move from the seat on the bus was part of a tactic to overthrow the bus segregation laws that the local NAACP chapter had been planning for some time. Prior to December 1, 1955 the very young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others involved were already building organization to carry out a bus' boycott and to take the results of that tactic further to bring a federal court case challenging the entirety of the Jim Crow segregation laws. When Ms. Parks was arrested and taken to the city jail for refusing to give up her seat, they organized a network of support for her and her case, and called the boycott into motion that same night.
At the height of the bus boycott a network of volunteers were providing transportation to and from work for more than 20,000 people a day with volunteer taxi drivers and many others using their own cars. Many of the drivers were whites who supported the struggle to end segregation.
Ms. Parks said that many times history too often maintains that her feet were hurting and she didn't know why she refused to stand up when they told her. "But the real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."
In a formal statement on the passing of Parks, Winnie Mandela, a leader in the South African fight to end apartheid, paid tribute. "Rosa Parks' resentment of white supremacy was an inspiration to many of us in South Africa who were fighting the evil system of apartheid. Her activism played a part in our own struggle. Rosa Parks showed us that you don't have to be in the forefront to be regarded a leader." The mass boycott of the bus system tactic used successfully in Montgomery brought the bus company to the brink of bankruptcy, inspired oppressed people all over the world and was mirrored in economic tactics used by the ANC to fight apartheid in South Africa.
Parks became a symbol, an icon and an important catalyst for the growing liberation and revolutionary movement in the United States. In the wake of the boycott, still more militant and youthful organizations began to develop, including Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Deacons for Defense (organized by Robert Williams in Lowndes County, Louisiana), and the Black Panther Party.
Years later, in 1996, Parks was not afraid to publicly memorialize and eulogize Robert Williams, despite his having been rejected by the movement for his militancy and his seeking asylum in the socialist camp, and despite her own reputation for non-violence and her affiliation with Dr. King and the policy of strategic non-violence he espoused.
As the bus boycott, coordinated by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), made up mostly of all the local black ministers, grew and won tactical victories through their determination and willingness to work over-time in organizing people and getting the story out, they also faced local reaction, including the bombing of MIA leadership's homes and many instances of police harassment and false arrests.
The movement achieved such force in the 1960's that President Lyndon B. Johnson, a white Southern opportunist politician (who always seemed to have trouble pronouncing the word "Negro"), pushed the US Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning racial discrimination in public accommodations.
As the struggle against segregation advanced, economic and class issues came to the forefront as the underlying issues, and the movement began to abandon the co-optable demand for "civil rights" and to take up the revolutionary demand for economic power, recognizing that racism and institutionalized racialism are tactics of the ruling class to keep members of the working class fighting each other for the crumbs falling from the rulers abundant table. The victory to sit anywhere we want to on the bus that was won as a result of Rosa Parks' historic action is not a revolutionary achievement as long as we have no economic power and continue to only receive crumbs.
Dr. King was assassinated when he moved from fighting against segregation and racism to an understanding that the deeper fight is against poverty, and when he called for working class unity and fundamental economic change. That is when those in power could no longer tolerate his movement, and they killed him.
In 1996 President Clinton awarded Ms. Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The bourgeoisie and their lackeys sometimes grudgingly bestow awards on our leaders. At the same time, they continue to torture and assassinate other revolutionary leaders and to rewrite or bury our history and the true meaning and goal of our struggle. These reactionary policies and efforts to co-opt our people are another indication of the strength of our movement, which the bourgeoisie work to appease, or use divide and conquer techniques to break up. In the face of this reality we must work even harder to strengthen our struggle, be true to our goals and objectives, and carry it on until we win. The fight is not over, and the goal of Rosa Parks' life and struggle has not yet been achieved.
The greatest honor that we can give to one of our fallen warriors is to pick up their weapon and carry the struggle onward to victory. Rosa Parks' weapon was organization, not individual spontaneous action. Long Live Rosa Parks and the lessons she taught us. VIVA!
All Power to the People!
The Commemorator is a publication of the Commemoration Committee for the Black Panther Party. Subscribe to The Commemorator at the rate of 1 year for $12 or 2 years for $20. Mail to The Commemorator, 4432 Telegraph Ave., PMB 62, Oakland CA 94609. Telephone: 510-652-7170
source of photo: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/rparksmug1.html 11jan2006