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Remembering the Original Rosa Parks

The blogosphere and the media are all over the passing of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. But many of you may not know that long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and long before Martin Luther King had a dream, a little known Baton Rouge woman by the name of Martha White changed the world. (pdf)

When Ms. White courageously sat down on an empty seat in the white section of the bus in early June 1953, she was just wore out. But her action set off a chain of events that led to the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, which preceded and laid the groundwork for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Although the boycott in Baton Rouge was peaceful and no violence resulting in physical injury to anyone occurred, the threat of retaliatory violence was ever present. And the threat of jail and/or physical violence for Ms. White and the other ladies on the bus that day was a very real one as well.

Before Brown vs The Board of Education outlawed segregation in public schools, Baton Rouge, Louisiana had a law allowing both blacks and whites to ride the bus on a first come first served basis. Blacks were to start sitting from the back to the front and the whites were to start sitting from the front. In 1953 in the Jim Crow south, that was monumental.

Earlier in 1953, the Reverend T. J. Jemison had gone before the city council and convinced them to pass the law, but city bus drivers refused to allow it to be enacted for over 3 months. In June of '53, when Mrs. White got on a Baton Rouge bus, "just wore out" from doing domestic work, she sat in seat marked "whites only" because, as she said, it was the closest. After a confrontation with the bus driver, the police and the head of the bus company were called to the scene. When the police threatened White with aresst, all the blacks on the bus stood together and said the police would have to arrest them too. By chance, Rev. Jemison was passing the bus and stopped when he saw the commotion. After a few moments, he convinced the local police that arresting a whole bus full of blacks who were obeying the law was just a poor idea.

That outraged the white bus drivers who called for union action. Just 2 days later, the drivers struck demanding a repeal of city ordinance 222. Just 4 days after the strike stated, the state attorney general declared the ordinance unconstitutional because it violated existing segregation laws and the drivers returned to work.

That did not sit well with the black community who organized to start the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott. After only a week, the bus company caved and brokered a compromise agreement. It was only a partial civil rights victory but before Brown it was a major win.

Years later, Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks took the model of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott and applied it. The Montgomery bus boycott was directly inspired by the success in Baton Rouge. In a post Brown era, King and Parks finished the job started by an almost forgotten civil right pioneer in Louisiana.


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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Remembering the Original Rosa Parks:

» In Search Of Utopia linked with God Bless you Rosa!

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks Dies at 92

» Donkey Stomp linked with Rest in Peace Rosa Parks

» La Shawn Barber's Corner linked with Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

» Tapscott's Copy Desk linked with Rosa Parks, RIP

» The Truth Laid Bear linked with Morning Report: October 25, 2005

» Outside The Beltway linked with Rosa Parks an NAACP Pawn?

» Right Thoughts...not right wing, just right. linked with History is fascinating

» Pardon My English: Conservative News & Opinion linked with Rosa Parks Remembered

» Uncle Sam's Cabin linked with Death of a Legend

» Oblogatory Anecdotes linked with Rosa Parks Dead at 92 What Happened To Her Legacy?

» Stop The ACLU linked with Rosa Parks Dead At 92

» Don Surber linked with The Man Before Rosa Parks

» Tel-Chai Nation linked with Rosa Lee Parks, 1931-2005

» TechnoChitlins linked with More on Rosa

» Speed of Thought... linked with Round the Reader - Miers Edition...

Comments (18)

I'm constantly amazed at ho... (Below threshold)

I'm constantly amazed at how much history seems to get lost in the bright lights of other historical icons.

Thanks for relating the sto... (Below threshold)
89:

Thanks for relating the story. But "Original Rosa Parks" sounds a bit detracting from Rosa Parks.

Well, Rosa's fame has kind ... (Below threshold)

Well, Rosa's fame has kind of detracted from that rightly deserved by Martha White. Martha's just getting a little of her own back, so it isn't really denigrating Miss Rosa.

Saw a somewhat unusual sign... (Below threshold)

Saw a somewhat unusual sign on the bus this morning. Normally, you don't notice the PSAs, but this one was of a black woman defering to an elderly white Archie Bunker looking fellow.

Given her death yesterday, I'd think that METRO would have taken these signs down.

Hmmm.What I always... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

What I always thought was interesting, and yet never seems to be included in the package, that Rosa Parks was a longtime activist and an employee of the NAACP.
Sure she sparked a milestone incident. But IMHO the whole thing was organized and setup beforehand.

On the other hand the incident with Martha White was spontaneous. It's a shame that Rosa Parks has overshadowed Martha White.

Irrespective of Rosa Parks'... (Below threshold)
Aidan Maconachy:

Irrespective of Rosa Parks' later political affiliations, on a human level this woman is deserving of every award and word of praise she has received from politicians of all political stripes, including George Bush.

At a time when racial tension and paranoia was the order of the day, Rosa showed tremendous personal courage in opposing a despicable practice - namely the rule requiring a black person to yeild his/her seat in a bus to a white person who only had to make the request. This was frankly disgusting. The courage of this woman to stand against being demeaned in this fashion, and to make her stand with great personal dignity helped to energize the civil rights movement and put an end to these shameful practices.

God bless you Rosa ... may you rest in peace.

EdIt seems to me t... (Below threshold)
JEW:

Ed

It seems to me the PSAs sign shouldn’t be looked at as a Black/White issue, but as a common courtesy issue, something that is sorely missing in public these days.
Is the message in the eye of the beholder or the eye of the messager?

Rosa wasn't the first and m... (Below threshold)
BPSpeaks:

Rosa wasn't the first and most likely wasn't even second. Nor is it likely that she was the first or second, even in Montgomery. I recall reading somewhere, when all the fuss made by so-called civil rights leaders regarding Ice-Cubes Barbeshop movie, that some other person had refused to give up their seat to a white person. Turns out, the NAACP didn't want that person to represent thier cause. It suggested that this person didn't have the right moral pinnings that Miss Rosa did - not nearly as polished. Wow, what a difference 30+ years make because now, they (NAACP) unfortunately stand up to represent every low-life black they can find. The impact of such actions of course discredits any legit claims by any black person. If only the NAACP could learn from thier successes!

I don't always agree with N... (Below threshold)
Aidan Maconachy:

I don't always agree with NAACP priorities either.

With the death of this woman I don't think it should be so much about politics, as a change in American society that Rosa, amongst others, came to represent.

Martha White ... wasn't she... (Below threshold)
Aidan Maconachy:

Martha White ... wasn't she from Baton Rouge?

There was a pretty good mov... (Below threshold)
beth mcneely:

There was a pretty good movie about this (Sissy Spacek, I think). So, it's not exactly been overlooked.

Yeah right, I believe I saw... (Below threshold)
Aidan Maconachy:

Yeah right, I believe I saw the video a while back.

I was curious about the tit... (Below threshold)
Aidan Maconachy:

I was curious about the title of the video so I googled Sissy Spacek's work but could find no reference to a movie featuring the Martha White story. There is a movie about this but I can't recall who starred in the lead role.

An intentionally omitted fa... (Below threshold)
-S-:

An intentionally omitted fact from the Rosa Parks moment on that bus, that particular happening, that day, was that the "white man" Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to was an elderly, far more frail person than was Rosa Parks at that moment. She was tired from working all day but the "white man" in that incident was very frail...so the local stories go from among some who witnessed the incident.

I also have always thought that Parks was an arranged incident in history. Someone had to make the point as to racial inequities, yes, but in this particular case, the "recorded history" is simply a manufactured tale. Again, so the story goes from some who were actually there.

I'd give my bus seat to any... (Below threshold)
-S-:

I'd give my bus seat to anyone more frail than I, white, black, whatever. It's a case of social kindness without reward other than doing what is considerate.

But, as I wrote, the issue as to racial inequalities had to be confronted and was, but the circumstances with Parks were not as heroic as made out to be, in social reality, but politically astute by handlers.

Why these harsh truths are not taught, also, is beyond me because they are significant to our society.

Hi S - Rosa Parks has becom... (Below threshold)
Aidan Maconachy:

Hi S - Rosa Parks has become a symbol of victory over a form of institutionalized racism that shamed the USA and by extension humanity.

Sure, we can get into the fine detail of the circumstances ... but what went on with respect to the age of the white man etc isn't finally the main point. By whatever means Rosa ended up becoming the figure around whom people rallied ... the point is people did rally and put an end to heinous practices that have no place in a civilized society.

I didn't always agree with her politics, nor did I like the way she was used by ultra leftists to further their agenda. But despite this, I honor the woman as a symbol of a struggle. Someone who helped move America forward and out of the shadow of institutionalized racism.

For this service alone, she merits a salute from all of us.

For people who are not fami... (Below threshold)

For people who are not familiar with the history of segregation de jure or who did not read the link, here's the outcome of the Baton Rouge bus boycott:

After eight days of boycotting the buses, the Baton Rouge City Council agreed to a compromise that opened all seats -- except for the front two, which would be for whites, and the back two, for black riders.

In other words, the 'compromise' left the segregation statutes impacting riding the bus intact. Unlike the Montgomery boycott, the Baton Rouge bus boycott did not change the law. So, it is completely understandable that the Montgomery boycott is the one that has gone down in history.

I notice that Paul failed to actually say what the 'compromise' was in his entry. I suspect that was done on purpose. One cannot denigrate Rosa Parks' actions if one acknowledges that the Baton Rouge bus boycott was a bust.

In regard to S.' anecdote, I've seen similar ones at white supremacist sites. Invariably, the white person Mrs. Parks refused to give her seat to is described as a pregnant woman, handicapped or a frail, elderly man or woman. The point is to make it appear that Mrs. Parks was the person more capable of standing and should have stood. She is depicted as not only 'uppity,' but cruel. These stories are apocryphal.

I realize my comment is late, but someone needs to set the record straight.

rosa was so brave...i know ... (Below threshold)
kirstin:

rosa was so brave...i know id never do as she had! shes my idol and i wanna be just like her!!!!




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