The International Writers Magazine:Realtiy Check
LOUISE PARKS 1913-2005
"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because
I was tired,
but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired
usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although
people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two.
only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
- Rosa Louise Parks
She said no.
It was logical, courageous, and a bit disruptive. It was eventually
measured defiant and consequently criminal. No, she said. No. She was
not going to get up from her seat on the bus for no white guy or black
guy or fat guy or some other guy. And it was less about race and it
was even less about gender or timing or the fact that the bus idled
in the town of Montgomery, Alabama and not New York City or Los Angeles
or Chicago or Butte, Montana. Rosa Lee Parks was tired. She was there
first. This was her seat, not anyone elses. She paid for it, and
she was not giving it up.
Feet hurt. Got a seat. Paid in full. Not going to take it from her.
No, sir. Not you or anyone.
She was tired, all right. She was tired of the whole bus business and
the Jim Crow business and the American business of "Liberty and
Justice for Some." And she was tired because since she was a little
girl she watched buses pass her by for school. She could see the white
people dressed in their finery sitting comfortably.
She was damned tired from attempting to cast a vote in three elections
before her vote was counted. She struggled just to be included in the
7% of black high school graduates nationwide. She kept silent as she
was passed over for work time and again, while the comfortable white
bus passengers took a job she was more than qualified to handle. She
was tired of being tired.
So she said no.
Eight years before her bus seat became the most famous seat on any mode
of transportation in the history of human dignity, Rosa Lee dove into
the Civil Rights movement. That was 1943, when the Civil Rights movement
was something of a faint murmur. In the South, it was like breathing
under water. And this was when her country was busy freeing people of
other nations, while her people were not free. Nowhere close to free.
A few months before her bus seat became the most discussed instrument
in the pantheon of democracy, a 15-year-old girl by the name of Claudette
Colvin refused to give up a bus seat to a white man. Imagine that. What
a coincidence. Not so much. Colvin was counseled by Rosa Lee. Rosa told
her to "always do what is right." Little Claudette did, and
she was hauled off to prison.
It was Colvin, not Rosa Louise Parks, who should have been the shining
symbol of Civil Rights, but turns out Little Claudette was pregnant
with the child of a much older man out of wedlock, and in 1955 Alabama,
many who ran the movement felt this subject to be anything but sympathetic.
So there was little hubbub for Little Claudette, but Rosa Lee did not
She was, after all, tired.
She did not forget that the bus driver on the day her seat became the
most famous seat in the fight for equality, James Blake, was the very
same one that forced her to walk five miles in a driving rain because
she entered through the "white front door". Rosa Lee remembered
how tired she was then. She remembered the humiliation then. Decided
she was tired of being tired.
December 1, 1955, Rosa Louise Parks was asked to vacate a seat in the
middle section of the bus, the section open to African Americans only
if there were no Caucasian Americans present. This was law; Section
301 (31a, 31b and 31c) of Title 48, Code of Alabama, 1940 and Sections,
10 and 11 of Chapter 6 of the Code of the City of Montgomery to be exact.
It so happens on that day when a Caucasian American wanted her aisle
seat, she politely moved to the window seat. Why not? She would kindly
do the same for anyone; black, white, fat, tall, dumb, rich or poor.
But damned if Rosa Lee was going to leave the window seat. No good reason.
No sensible explanation. Law? No. Race? No. Pride? No. She was just
tired. Staying put.
She said no.
And so Rosa Louise Parks was dragged off to prison. But unlike Little
Claudette, she was married and not with child. She was employed, articulate,
motivated, politically savvy, and experienced in the denial of basic
rights granted by the United States Constitution. Most of all she was
beyond tired. In another words she was trouble - trouble, and the perfect
subject for change.
Three days later a minister from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by
the name of Martin Luther King rose up from his chair in the Montgomery
Improvement Association and helped plot the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The following months some 40,000 black commuters walked in the cold
and snow to honor it, for many it meant 20 miles or more. The transit
company stalled and began to crack. It was simple: Lift segregation
or prepare for bankrupcy.
Nearly a year later the United States Supreme Court banned segregation
on buses. Only then was the boycott lifted. There was still a long way
to go, but it was a start. Thanks to a brave and fed up woman who was
simply, irrevocably, vehemently, immovably tired.
So she said no.
No, she said.
© James Campion Nov 6th 2005
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