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The Real Rosa Parks :: ILCA Online :: Making Labor Media a Force to Be Reckoned With:

"We learn much from how we present our heroes. A few years ago, on Martin Luther King. Day, I was interviewed on CNN. So was Rosa Parks, by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re very honored to have her,” said the host. “Rosa Parks was the woman who wouldn’t go to the back of the bus. She wouldn’t get up and give her seat in the white section to a white person. That set in motion the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery. It earned Rosa Parks the title of ‘mother of the Civil Rights movement.’” I was excited to hear Parks’s voice and to be part of the same show. Then it occurred to me that the host’s description--the story’s standard rendition and one repeated even in many of her obituaries--stripped the Montgomery boycott of all of its context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had been active for twelve years in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary. The summer before her arrest, she’d had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee’s labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she’d met an older generation of civil rights activists, like South Carolina teacher Septima Clark, and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning “separate-but-equal” schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign."
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