Rosa Parks took her first “stand” for civil rights just four months after the funeral of Emmett Till, the Chicago 14-year-old who was tortured then lynched by white men in Money, Miss., in the summer of 1955. Rosa, who refused to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man, must have seen, and surely talked about, the newspaper pictures of little Emmett in his open casket, one eye gouged out, his head crushed in, a bullet in it. Emmett didn’t know he should not have spoken to the white lady in the store.
This was post–World War II America with its vision of prosperity: two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot, only “every” did not include “everyone.” Jim Crow was big, bad and bold, then. But so was Rosa’s stand, though she didn’t know it. So, too, was a vision in West Africa that sparked the beginning of the death of colonialism worldwide.
Indeed, it was a time of tumultuous social and economic awakenings from different dreams on different shores.
Rosa Parks’s transition at the age of 92 on Oct. 24 came two months after the stark revelation of Hurricane Katrina: that the more things change for Blacks in America, the more they seem to remain the same. It came two weeks after the birth of the “Millions More Movement,” with its vision of pooling the diverse skills, gifts and talents of the Black community to create “a better world for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Rosa must have seen, even talked about, the images of the human spoils of Katrina. She must have seen, even talked about, the images of hundreds of thousands of Blacks from all walks, ideologies and philosophies of life and from myriad countries, who moved on Washington, D.C. She had worried that younger Blacks were in danger of taking their rights for granted. Older African-Americans were trying “to shield young people from what we have suffered and in so doing, we seem to have a more complacent attitude,” she complained. But then came the images of Katrina and MMM—a different era, a new awakening, an old dream. Rosa must have connected the dots. Fifty years from the Civil Rights Movement to the MMM is but a nanosecond in history.
Rosa’s final stand, her death, was big, bad and bold, though she didn’t know it. It wasn’t big, bad and bold because it made her the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. It was big, bad and bold because its public and global acknowledgement showed Black youth the dignity of a history they must never ignore.
“Because you sat, I can stand here today and sit where I do, regularly…I shall not be moved,” media icon Oprah Winfrey said in her tribute to Parks.
On behalf of The Network Journal staff, I wish you all a joyful holiday season and greater prosperity in 2006.
By Rosalind McLymont