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Rosa Parks…Tea Party Member?

Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin

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.

About Michael Tomlin


  1. Uh, I think “law breaking invaders” goes a little too far. Why this kind of rhetoric? When I think “invaders” I think Germany heading into Poland in 1939. I’ll agree with the law breaking part, but, tempered a little by the fact that many illegal immigrants are tempted to get into this country because there are so many Americans who want to hire them (because they’re cheap hires and work hard) and because they want to support their families. I’m not saying this wipes away the law breaking part, but am saying that it makes them more than a little different from “invaders.”

    Whether intentional or not, using words like “invaders,” “parasites” (see today’s Idaho Statesman letters), “leeches,” “criminals,” (of course some of them are), etc., tends to dehumanize illegal immigrants.

    It’s not very productive or helpful to the debate.

  2. Hey Doc,

    This was a nice piece, thanks for remembering Parks. Those of us who know the Highlander School understand your point. Presidential ambitions aside, she was pre-Palin cool.

    Women, and in fact all change folks today – Obama included, walk on streets of ideas paved by those who came before.

    What’s your take on the election in Idaho – I haven’t seen political analysis from you since you picked Labrador over Ward.

  3. This article really isn’t worth responding to. This is just flat getting ludicrous.

  4. The headline aside, you’ll note I used lower case “tea party” in the body of the column, meant to reference a reform or change movement in general, not a political party.

    On the other hand, as a student of King, I would note that the modern application of civil rights laws laws are pretty far from “nothing asked and nothing given,” and would more accurately reflect much of true Conservatism’s individualism.

    IdaD, the immigration stats you refer to are of legal immigrants, of which most of our families are. What I believe Parks would be disappointed in would be to finally achieve full membership….and then have it slid to the back by law-breaking invaders.

    Thanks all for the comments.

  5. Thank you so much Mr. Knowledge, perfectly stated. This article could not be a bigger stretch and actually in my opinion insulting to Rosa Parks.

  6. Here’s an intersting read.


    This is a report on polling that was done by a UW professor on voters in Washington state. Among the intersting findings – 74% of people who aligned themselves strongly with the tea party movement agreed with the statement that “While equal opportunities for blacks and minorities to succeed is important, it’s not really the government’s job to guarantee it.”

    You really think Rosa Parks would be in the Tea Party, Mike? It sure seems like a stretch to me.

  7. Hmm, I’m disappointed at the lack of posts to this one.

    Looking at the composition of the Tea Party, I’m not sure she’d be too welcome.

    The desegregation movement encountered fierce opposition from the South, which basically argued that this was a state’s rights issues and that the rest of the country had no right to impose its morality and “ruin” the “southern way of life.”

    Perhaps I go to far, but, I don’t feel like I’m going on on limb when I say that those in Tea Party who endlessly complain about federal intrusion on state sovereignty are precisely the type of people who would have complained about the federal government’s efforts to desegregate the South. (And, for that matter, the rest of the country where segregation was a problem.)

    Sorry, but when I look at the Tea Party (and I don’t mean to imply that everyone has this view) I see plenty of people who claim to love and “understand” the Constitution (though this isn’t really possible without academically studying it), but in the same breath turn around and say we should amend the 14th amendment so that people born here are not classified as citizens, or amend the 17th amendment so that individuals can longer elect their senators, or do away with the 16th amendment (permitting the income tax). The Tea Party loves its Constitution, as long as it agrees with it.

    Which gets me to my broader point, which is that I don’t see much if any concern in the Tea Party for minority rights or racial equality. I do, however, hear stuff from guys like Rand Paul who argue we should deport all illegal immigrants and their children (children born here, and therefore citizens under the 14th Amendment) back to their country of origin. (Should we cuff the kids to the parents for the train, plane, bus or truck ride back? Hopefully we can give the kiddies a chance to say goodbye to their citizen friends!) I also see a lot of Tea Partiers playing the “the Mexicans will destroy us” card, e.g., Sharron Angle in Nevada.

    So, if we could teleport these Tea Partiers back to the segregated south of the 1950s, I somehow doubt that most of them would be standing up to invite the feds in to fix what was plainly a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. Based on what I’ve seen to date, they’d be complaining about the feds violating state sovereignty.

    Rosa Parks in the Tea Party?

    Not a chance.

  8. The percentage of immigrants relative to the total population in the US was higher in 1900 than it is now, so I doubt the current situation would be a real stunner to her.

    I also doubt Parks would be particularly impressed with the racist overtones associated with some of the team party movement.