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Politics Mondays: Rosa Parks - The Woman Who Changed America and The Best Tribute We Can Pay To Her: Taking A Stand by Anthony Asadullah Samad

This week, after a week long tribute that included stops in the nation's capital (becoming the first woman to lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda), her hometown, Detroit, and one last trip to the South in the state she helped change forever (Alabama), civil right icon, Rosa Parks will be buried. She should be buried in Arlington Cemetery, for she is the last truly American Hero. With tributes from all around the country, from dignitaries all around the world, not enough can be said about the woman who took the boldest step in breaking down American Apartheid. If Brown v. Board of Education was the first step in the fall of de jure segregation, Rosa Parks' was the second. Difference between the first step and the second step was more than 18 months. After Brown I (May 17, 1954), America didn't know what to do after such a shocking decision--so it did nothing. A year later in the Brown II decision (May 31, 1955), the U.S. Supreme Court issues the implementation order of “With All Deliberate Speed,” that in essence gave the South the nod to “go slow” on desegregation. “Go slow” in Birmingham, Alabama met “no go” on any changes in the racial etiquette of Jim Crow. However, December 1, 1955 changed everything.

Rosa Parks was the original exemplification that “no” means “NO.” One woman's comments, “No, I'm not moving,” and her subsequent arrest changed the way Blacks would see themselves and their power to change “the status quo.” On December 5th, black people in Birmingham stopped riding the bus. Three hundred and eighty-one days later, black people still weren't riding the bus until the “hard copy” of the federal order ruling segregated buses unconstitutional. People didn't know it at the time, but a movement had begun. A 13 year movement began with the action of one woman, and Alabama was never the same. In fact, after December 1, 1955, America was never the same. God used an ordinary woman, as he often uses ordinary people, to perform the miracle of killing “Jim Crow,” as he had done 100 years earlier in the deconstruction of slavery. Rosa Parks became synonymous with “freedom.” Never wanting to acknowledge the greatness of her role in the movement, Parks said she wanted to be remembered as simply a person who wanted to be free. She was unaffected by her celebrity, but don't get it twisted, she did understand that she was a cause c'ele'bre for no individual sought to take such a bold stand. Sure, others had gotten arrested--even beaten, but it was Rosa who caught the attention of the public, of the preachers (one in particular), then the state and then the nation. The rest is history. Last month, while in Washington, D.C. I was privileged to attend a dinner meeting (thanks to Willis Edwards who never lets you know where you're going when you meet up with him--it's usually just, C'mon, go with me) with the leadership of the Rosa Parks Foundation. They were meeting with some big money sponsors discussing the underwriting of the 50th anniversary of the day Rosa “sat tight.” The irony of the meeting that it was in a part of town that, 50 years earlier, Blacks weren't allowed to frequent, in a restaurant that, 50 years ago, Blacks wouldn't have been allowed to patronize, with some people who, 50 years ago, wouldn't have been caught talking to a Black, much less paying tribute to one. And they were talking to paying the “ultimate” tribute, causing me to think, “What is the ultimate tribute one could pay to Rosa Parks?”

Ms. Parks didn't live to see what others are planning for December 1st, 2005, but now, in her memory, what would “pomp and circumstance” really mean to what is now a struggle essentially “in reverse.” “Separate But Equal” is back. It's called “Colorblind Society” and it's the new “Jim Crow.” African Americans are not just in the back of the “perverbial” bus. We've made our way to the back of society and Jim Crow, Jr. doesn't think he has to pay reparations for a race disparities created by his father. He maintains the state of Black America is “self-inflicted,” and Blacks haven't done anything to change their lot in American life. Many conservative Blacks now agree with Jim Crow, Jr. Disparate schools, sub-standard housing, wage subjugation, job discrimination, police abuse, hate crimes, all present in near every city in America in the 21st Century. 2005 doesn't look much different than 1955. Only thing missing is the “White Only” and “Colored Only” signs. Yes, today Blacks can go anywhere they want to. So, if we can go anywhere we want to, why haven't we moved any further than we have? It's a question we still can't answer.

One thing we know for sure, the desire to move from the back of society has not been evidenced in the collective. The back of the bus seems just fine, as nobody has been bold enough (well, maybe other than Tony Muhammad) to sit tight in the midst of obvious abuse and injustice. People today see wrongs, and say “it's wrong,” but go along…to get along, just like a lot of people did back in the days of “Jim Crow.” One day, though, some one will say, “No, no more.” Another Rosa Parks will emerge from the masses of the oppressed, and another movement will be ignited…the greatest tribute that can be paid to the memory of the woman who changed America.

The real questions are, when will the next change come, and will it be you that starts the next movement for justice in America?

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America (Kabili Press, 2005). He can be reached at

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Monday, October 31, 2005

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