civil rights history
Rosa Parks 1913-2005
| This is not another re-write about Rosa Parks' contribution to human rights history. There are plenty of those sites online. Rather, this is how her action affected me, as far as I see and remember it.
I was still a small kid when Rosa Parks
got tired of riding in the back and sat down in the front of the bus where she ought to have belonged anyway. At the time, I really had no concept of what her actions meant. Most likely, I wasn't even aware of them at the time, anyway.
Hell, around the same year, where I lived there was a story going around of an African American family [the acceptable parlance of the time amongst white folks was "Negro"
] was said to have gone on a tour of a house for sale. A few days later we heard that the house they merely looked at was torched. Not only was it torched, but supposedly so was the realtor's office who had shown them the house. My vague recollection at the time was, "Why would anybody want to burn a house down just because a Negro family looked at it?
" Not surprising, but no one bothered to explain it to me.
I don't know if this ever really happened mind you, but someone told their wish as if it had occurred.
By the time I had learned the implications of this action, I'd already figured out that, in contrast with my father, I was pretty much "color blind." I went to an elementary school that was probably 30% Black and chose my childhood friends by
whether I enjoyed their company rather than according to skin color.
I went on to a junior high school [you know, what are called "middle schools' now] that was 85% Black, and where the supposed differences between the races became prominent when my father argued stridently to get me sent somewhere else; somewhere that was less "Black". It didn't happen, and I didn't rally want to transfer to another school. The impact of this was that it further alienated me from my father. I simply could not find an reason to lose my friends and also couldn't understand what the problem was for me to have African American friends.
In fact, the first time I ever recall engaging in social protest was around the same time, outside a Woolworth's 5 & dime store. One of my friends told me he was going to march in the picket line. The reason? Because in 1963 or '64 that chain store was still refusing to serve "the Negro" at the lunch counter. I stopped going there and stopped purchasing there, too. And, though I wasn't real upfront or active, it was the point in my life when I first joined a civil rights organization, the Congress of Racial Equality, CORE
. In quiet opposition to my father Rosa Parks had, for me, become a hero. Someone to look up to, admire, and try to live up to her brave protest action.
And it was these actions, combined with my own growing recognition that I was somehow ~different~ from my peers [because I was gay] that shaped my own responses to injustice. Those lessons I learned by standing alongside other folks who are speaking out against social evils taught me how to stand up against restrictions and oppressions that also affected gay folk. And later, in 1968, while still a teenager, I was asked to picket for equal rights for homosexuals in 1968 in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I gave it not a second thought but went and did it.
Lots of things have changed since those days, both for me personally, and for people customarily disriminated against and reviled by others.
Tell the truth, while progress has been made, in both the racial justice and gay rights arenas, I'm not really sure that all that much has improved. Certainly, there is much more interaction between people of color and white european stock, but are the opportunities significantly better?
The test of this question rests, I believe, not only in Middle America, but in all
cultures, societies and nations on the planet. For only by eradicating prejudice across the globe, can we truly expect that others will treat one another equally and, perhaps even more importantly, equitably.
I never met Rosa Parks
. But the single simple action she took that December day in 1955 resulted in me feeling like I knew her. And I feel that I am a better person for her
You are remembered and loved Mrs. Parks. It is the only way I can say, "Thank You," however inadequate that may seem. Thank you Rosa Parks.