- On her 100th birthday, a new book argues the civil rights icon's rebellion goes beyond that one famous refusal.
- Excerpted from "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks"
- The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks ~ Jeanne Theoris
Jeanne Theoharis, Salon
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Sunday, Feb 3, 2013 | “Whites would accuse you of causing trouble when all you were doing was acting like a normal human being instead of cringing,” Rosa Parks explained. “You didn’t have to wait for a lynching.” Such were the assumptions of black deference that pervaded mid-20th century Montgomery, Ala. The bus with its visible arbitrariness and expected servility stood as one of the most visceral experiences of segregation. “You died a little each time you found yourself face to face with this kind of discrimination,” she noted.
Blacks constituted the majority of bus riders, paid the same fare, yet received inferior and disrespectful service — often right in front of and in direct contrast to white riders. “I had so much trouble with so many bus drivers,” Parks recalled. That black people comprised the majority of riders made for even more galling situations on the bus. Some routes had very few white passengers yet the first 10 seats on every bus were always reserved for whites. Thus, on many bus routes, black riders would literally stand next to empty seats. Those blacks able to avoid the bus did so, and those who had the means drove cars. Black maids and nurses, however, were allowed to sit in the white section with their young or sick white charges, further underscoring the ways that bus segregation marked status and the convenience of white needs, and did not simply regulate proximity.
Jeanne Theoharis is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks ~ Jeanne Theoris, reviewed by Carol Reagan Shelton, Ph.D., Rhode Island College, Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought
Most contemporary people, including school children, have some knowledge of the role Rosa Parks played in the Civil Rights Movement. The image of Rosa Parks that has dominated the imagination of the American people is that of a tired, black woman refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Hearing the story of Rosa’s act of disobedience of the bus driver’s order to move to the back of the bus, and her subsequent arrest for this act of civil disobedience, strikes most of us as unjust.