Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Centenary of Rosa L. Parks (1913-2005): "Mother of Civil Rights Movement" Honored in Detroit

Centenary of Rosa L. Parks (1913-2005): “Mother of Civil Rights Movement” Honored in Detroit

Montgomery woman took decisive action that challenged U.S. apartheid

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
African American History Series 2013

February 4, 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Louise MaCauley Parks in Tuskegee, Alabama. Parks was born in the segregated South where African Americans were subjected daily humiliations aimed at maintaining the system of exploitation and national oppression which grew out of slavery and the failure of reconstruction.

In the early 20th century African Americans were being unjustly imprisoned, assaulted and lynched by white mobs organized into the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations. The entire legal system was geared toward maintaining white supremacy where people were denied the right to vote, to live where they wanted and to achieve educational and career goals commensurate with their wishes and qualifications.

Alabama was considered one of the most violent and racist states in the South. Parks, who would later move to Montgomery, became a seamstress and was elected as secretary for the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943. She worked alongside E.D. Nixon, a labor organizer and advocate for workers, who was a longtime member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded by A. Phillip Randolph.

Earlier Parks and her husband Raymond would participate in the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys, a group of African American youth falsely accused of raping two white women on a freight train in 1931. The case gained national attention and drew in support from both the Communist Party and the NAACP.

In 1944, Parks as secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, helped investigate the gang rape of Recy Taylor, an African American woman. The Chicago Defender would describe the campaign as the most significant effort against racism during the decade.

Parks and other women formed “The Committee for Equal Justice for Recy Taylor”. Taylor was walking home from church in Abbeville, Alabama when she was kidnapped by six white men, taken to a deserted area and repeatedly assaulted.

Although the car and the assailants were identified, no charges were ever filed against the men for their crimes. The case was indicative of the culture of racist impunity prevailing in the South and in other regions of the U.S.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56 and the Modern Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks was thrust into the national spotlight when she was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white man in the “colored section” of a city bus. After her arrest, the African American community immediately took action and the Montgomery Improvement Association formed by E.D. Nixon and led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a citywide boycott that lasted for nearly a year.

During this period, the home of E.D. Nixon was bombed along with the residence of Dr. King. Nevertheless, the community held its ground and eventually won a federal court ruling which outlawed segregation in municipal bus transportation.

The case would initiate the modern civil rights movement that reached its peak between 1955 and 1965, when thousands would march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama demanding universal suffrage. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 would represent a culmination of this phase of the African American struggle for equality and self-determination.

Due to political pressure and harassment, Parks and her husband would leave Montgomery in 1957 and settle in Detroit. Parks continued to work as a seamstress and in 1965 she was hired as a receptionist for the newly-elected Congressman John Conyers, Jr. She worked for Conyers until her retirement.

Parks continued to participate in civil rights activities until her senior years. In the mid-1970s, a major thoroughfare, 12th Street, where the Detroit rebellion began in 1967, was renamed in her honor. In her later years, she would form the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development which organized tours of civil rights historical sites for youth.

Parks would make her transition on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92. Her funeral was attended by thousands in the city of Detroit.

A series of events have been held to honor her 100th birthday over the last several months. These efforts will culminate at the Ford Museum in Dearborn on February 4 and it is free and open to the general public.

The museum houses the Montgomery city bus where Parks was arrested in 1955. It is a source of interest for students and tourists to the Detroit area.

Anita Peek, the executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, spoke at the Detroit MLK Day Rally & March held at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit on Jan. 21, the nationally-recognized holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader. Peek invited the capacity crowd to participate in the centenary activities.

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