Monday, October 24, 2005

R.I.P. Rosa Parks

First August Wilson and now Rosa Parks, all in one month? No one can say that this 92-year-old hero didn't live a full life—an indispensable life, that is, indispensable to the entire history of her country. Rosa Parks was a legend whether or not Oprah ever invited her to lunch. (That's for you, Summer.) The world will miss her, especially since I wonder if there's a single public figure on the current U.S. stage who is worth the salt on one peanut in Rosa Parks' kitchen.

I knew I'd be sad when this day came, but why is it making me so angry? Why are we saying goodbye to so many of our best?

Hopefully, TV stations will program Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks into their schedules post-haste. A wonderful, Oscar-nominated short documentary from 2002, the film features two devices that should never work under any circumstances—a large, rotating cast of child narrators, and reenactments of famous episodes from Parks' life using lookalike actors on stock footage—but the whole thing is polished, informative, and unsentimental in recalling Rosa Parks' leadership as a civil rights worker, the Montgomery Bus Boycott she so famously ignited, and other legacies of protest and justice-crusading that she joined, inspired, and stood in solidarity with. By all means, convince your local library to buy a VHS copy if they don't own it already. It couldn't be a better tribute to Ms. Parks. (Hartford locals are luckier, since Real Art Ways was already planning to exhibit the film for school children later this fall; I feel sure they'll find room for a regular showing now, too.)

I met Rosa Parks once, in the summer of 1995, and wasn't she a spitfire in a wheelchair. Speaking to a clutch of four or five American students, all of us freshly graduated from high school, she said, "If you ever hear anybody say that I just happened to be on that bus that day, or I was tired and didn't want to get up, or that I was in the white section, or that I was this little lady at the right place at the right time, it is your job to set them straight!" Rosa Parks knew what she was doing. Rosa Parks had been working for the NAACP and for other, local civil-rights groups for quite some time. Rosa Parks was in the "Colored" section of that bus, and balked at the bus driver's demands that she give up her seat to a white person. Rosa Parks had mettle. She had RIGHT on her side. She had actual courage, not that kind people talk about in speeches, the real kind, she HAD THAT.

One more thing that makes it less sad that Rosa Parks is gone: no one is ever, ever going to forget this woman.



Blogger summer of sam said...

thanx, nick. oprah did invite her to lunch, but ms. parks was unable to attend. god bless her.

12:27 AM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger Betty Rubble said...

Your quote of Rosa Parks' comments is so important. It speaks to the way her story has been hijacked by a meta-narrative of US history which emphasizes the work of a few stellar individuals over the long-term strategies of resistance mounted by people in civic organizations, churches, organized labor, etc. Holding up one iconic figure (and misrepresenting her story) has effectively undermined Americans' understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and the long-term struggle for equality. While Rosa Parks certainly deserves all of the laudatory eulogies, I'm holding out hope for commentary that goes beyond the "tired seamstress" story that Ms. Parks so clearly objected to. Unfortunately, from the reporting I've heard so far today, we're not there yet.

9:20 PM, October 25, 2005  

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