Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rosa Parks and Statuary Hall

An article from the Washington Post on February 27th describes how Rosa Parks has become the first black woman to have a full-length statue in the US Capitol’s Statuary Hall. You can read the article here:
Parks is portrayed “as legions of schoolchildren will probably think of her — sitting primly with ankles crossed, hands in her lap, clutching a purse and staring straight ahead.” Her refusal to move to the back of the bus is the reason for which Parks is most known. In fact, before reading Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street I only knew Parks as the woman who refused to give up her seat to a white man. However, Rosa Parks had many other accomplishments. She helped raise money for the Scottsboro Nine, and was an important part of the NAACP. Parks also organized the campaign to defend Recy Taylor, which became one of the most important legal cases of the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to her refusal to move to the back of the bus, students need to be taught about Parks’ other accomplishments. Issues of race and gender are largely ignored when discussing the Civil Rights Movement, and Parks had an essential role in sexual violence cases based on race.
            In his speech at the unveiling of the statue, Mitch McConnell described how Parks “did something no less important on a cold Alabama evening in 1955.” While this was an essential role in the Civil Rights Movement and helped begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott, focusing only on her decision one evening undermines all of her other accomplishments. Moreover, McConnell does not mention the sheer amount of work that went into creating the Civil Rights Movement. The boycott did not begin simply by her decision not to move to the back of the bus, but was the result of years of hard work by leaders such as Jo Ann Robinson and ED Nixon, and the actions of women such as Claudette Colvin.
Another thing that the article mentioned was that Parks was the first woman to have a casket viewing in the Capitol, and is the first black woman with a full-length statue. The role of women is often neglected not only in the Civil Rights Movement but also in American government and history.
Women had an essential role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Jo Ann Robinson was one of its leaders, but was later pushed aside due to her gender. Women were more likely to ride the bus than men, and their decision to boycott the buses was what ultimately compelled the Supreme Court to end segregation on public transportation in 1956.
The movement was not successful based only on court decisions and the work of leaders such as King, but also by ordinary people.  President Obama emphasized the importance of ordinary people in the movement during the ceremony. “She reminds us that this is how change happens — not mainly through the exploits of the famous and the powerful, but through the countless acts of often anonymous courage and kindness and fellow feeling and responsibility that continually, stubbornly, expand our conception of justice — our conception of what is possible.”
In fact, much of the Civil Rights Movement was made possible due to people who were not leaders or considered “important” by society. Claudette Colvin was essential in mobilizing the people of Montgomery and almost drove them to a bus boycott before Rosa Parks. Students made up the majority of the sit-in movement and helped the push towards integration. Rosa Parks makes an ideal figure for a statue because she was an ordinary person and had a large impact on the Civil Rights Movement. The only question that remains is why it took so long for her to receive a statue at all.

1 comment:

  1. This fits perfectly into the master narrative that we have tried to debunk all semester. It does not surprise me at all that they really only recognized her for her "one moment" of fame. It also does not surprise me that it took this long for her to receive a statue. Until last month, Memphis still had statues of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the KKK and slave trader. It is our duty to spread the story of Rosa Parks that we know now and to rally for more people like her to receive these honors. For instance, in Memphis we could celebrate Ida B. Wells or other lesser known African American activists.