October 24th marked the 5th anniversary of Rosa Louise McCauley Parks’ death at age 92. Her 92 years were eventful and impactive to our democracy starting with that famous bus ride in Montgomery Alabama.
We know today it wasn’t as simple as that. We know the bus rides were planned and that Parks trained at the Highlander Folk School, majoring in civil disobedience. That is not a criticism, disobeying illegal laws is sometimes a responsibility in our Republic. And at the Monteagle, Tennessee, school Parks trained with the best. Protest singer Pete Seeger, pastor Martin Luther King, Junior, and a bunch of pre-hippie types. And yes, a Communist or two.
But it was a difficult time for us, although still a time of hope and change. We were arguing whether black people were worthy for full membership in our free and equal society, and if so whether they could make it on their own. Strange arguments for the Country we were supposed to be.
Little known though was that Parks, while black by complexion was of African-American, Cherokee-Creek, and Scots-Irish ancestry. Hmmm, so am I, except for the African part. And she was a full-fledged American, born in Tuskegee, Alabama, and able to prove it. She was eligible to be elected President.
And as such she had a taste of full membership. Parks worked for a brief time at Maxwell Air Force Base, where racial segregation was not allowed. She rode an integrated trolley, not having to worry about where Whites might want to sit. Nothing asked and nothing given.
That’s what King wanted too, nothing asked and nothing given. Yet today we have made so very much progress on our buses and so little in our federal government’s understanding of that. Today, the bus company might have to fill out forms stating how many people of what color or ethnicity sat in each row during each route. The intent would be to ensure equality, with the result making the driver guess if Parks was Scots-Irish, oops, they are not protected. But maybe Cheyenne-Creek is, no matter, African-American surely is, check the box. If not the bus company, there are certainly employers and schools doing exactly that.
How sad that five years after her death at 92 Rosa Parks would be a check in a box, demonstrating how we no longer discriminate, by singling out, identifying, and thus discriminating.
But let’s go back to her birth in Tuskegee. Imagine Rosa Parks today seeing people invading our country illegally and taking and assuming jobs and positions she worked for – she and other African-Americans, who earned full membership even after it should have been assumed.
We remember Rosa Parks fondly, for her great spirit and her role in helping us understand our own Constitution. One woman making a difference, and then many more, turning the status quo on its head. It was a different time and different issues, but she was tea party before tea party was cool.