Detroit 'Day of Absence' Honors Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement
Teach-In held at Central United Methodist Church on Dec. 1
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
DETROIT, Dec. 1, 2005 (PANW)--Since the death of Rosa Parks on October 24, the city of Detroit has been blanketed with tributes and commemorative proclaimations in honor of this civil rights icon who settled here back in 1957. Parks came to Detroit in the aftermath of the 381-day bus boycott which initiated the modern African-American struggle some fifty years ago.
On Dec. 5, 1955 the boycott erupted and catapulted the young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into national prominence. After a successful Supreme Court decision striking down her arrest for violating Montgomery, Alabama's segregation laws governing public transport, Parks and her husband Raymond, were subject to ongoing death threats and economic sanctions. During the boycott the Park's home was bombed by racists along with the residences' of labor organizer E.D. Nixon and the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a national campaign initiated prior to the transition of Mrs. Parks, the Troops Out Now Coalition called for a 'Day of Absence' in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the civil rights movement. Events were held in dozens of cities throughout the United States. City Council resolutions were passed in support of this people's holiday in numerous urban areas including Oakland, CA, Baltimore, MD, Boston, MA and Detroit, MI. In Detroit the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) hosted a seven hour teach-in at the Central United Methodist Church located on Woodward avenue at Adams in the downtown area.
The event featured films, speakers and discussions on some of the significant issues facing the continuing movement for civil rights in the twenty- first century. The guest speaker for the teach-in was Njeri Shakur of Houston, Texas who is a leader in the anti-death penalty movement in that southern state.
Films on the movement for civil rights
Two important documentary films were shown at the Detroit teach-in: "Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks," which was directed Bobby Houston and produced by Robert Hudson. The film examines the life of Parks and the people who built the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Another documentary was shown entitled: "Freedom On My Mind," produced and directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford. This film, which was nominated for an Academy Award during the 1990s, tells the inspiring story of the Mississippi freedom movement in the early 1960s when a small number of dedicated and idealistic youth activists set out to change history--and did.
In addition, a recent interview with Stanley Tookie Williams conducted by Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" was shown and discussed. Williams who was denied a final appeal by the California Supreme Court, was scheduled for execution on December 13. His only apparent recourse is an act of clemency by the Governor of the state Arnold Schwarzenegger. Williams, the founder of the Crips, was convicted during the early 1980s for a string of murders in 1979. He has been on death row for nearly twenty-five years.
The death penalty, the Gulf and the continuing struggle
A panel of speakers at the teach-in addressed a number of issues which represent the continuing struggle for civil rights and peace in the United States. Organizers of the event pointed out that the historic fight for social justice is by no means over and that the legacy of Mrs. Parks can best be acknowledged through a commitment to complete the work she and others started five decades ago.
Njeri Shakur spoke on the case of Tony Ford who is from Detroit and is currently on death row in Texas. Ford, who was recently granted a stay of execution, has denied the murder charges that he was convicted of carrying out. "I always gain something from coming to Detroit," said Shakur, who has visited the city on numerous occasions to campaign against the death penalty.
Texas is the leading state for implementing the death penalty which reached its 1,000th execution since 1977 after capital punishment was re- instituted by the United States Supreme Court.
Marian Kramer, chair of the National Welfare Rights Organization, spoke on the current situation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Kramer, who is originally from Louisiana, presented an historic perspective on the hurricanes in the state pointing out how African-Americans were victimized during the disasters of 1927 and 1965. The People's Hurricane Relief Fund events of Dec. 8-10 in Jackson, MS and New Orleans, LA were mentioned during the course of the discussion on Katrina.
Other speakers included Kevin Carey of MECAWI who talked about the prisoner's rights campaigns going on in the state of Michigan. A series of demands were put forward in June at a state-wide rally held in the capital of Lansing. Carey emphasized the need to pressure the state legislature and the governor to enact the reforms.
Andrea Egypt of MECAWI chaired the evening panel which featured David Sole, president of UAW Local 2334; Rev. Ed Rowe, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church; Jennifer Teed of Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME); Atty. Jerry Goldberg of A Job is a Right Campaign; Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; a representative of the Gray Panthers of Detroit; Violetta Donawa of the Wayne State University student chapter of MECAWI and Njeri Shakur of the abolitionist movement in Texas.
The mother of Tony Ford was present at the event and was introduced to the audience. Shakur encouraged people at the event to take up the campaign to win justice for Tony Ford. Plans were finalized at this event to send a delegation from Detroit to the People's Hurricane Relief Fund summit in Jackson, MS on Dec. 8-9 and the march on Dec. 10 in New Orleans. One of the major demands coming out of this event in the South is to win the right of return for the hundreds of thousands of so-called 'evacuees' displaced by the aftermath of Katrina.
Also the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Freedom March and Rally was announced for Jan. 16, the federally recognized holiday for the slain civil rights and anti-war leader who was assassinated in 1968. The rally and march will begin at Central United Methodist Church at Noon on that day and will feature local activists, artists and delegations from various schools from throughout the Detroit metropolitan area.
For more information on the issues addressed at the Detroit Rosa Parks Teach-In just click on the following websites:
Tony Ford Support Campaign
The Troops Out Now Coalition
Campaign to Save Stanley Tookie Williams
The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice