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Guest Writer


The Civil Rights Movement turns 50
Rosa's revolution
by Stephen Holmes

he elegant act of defiance that Rosa Parks displayed on an Alabama bus to spark the Civil Rights Movement in America marks its 50th anniversary this month.

America's brutal courting ritual of blacks began on slave ships. The revolt of a people was consummated on auction blocks and ultimately conceived on back roads following the North Star. With her single act of civil disobedience, Parks gave birth to the revolution.

Just as virulent as the word "nigger" remains today, the word "no" was equally as poisonous in 1950s America – especially when uttered by a woman of color to a white man. And "no" is exactly what the bus driver heard from Parks when he demanded she move so a white man could have her seat. What transpired on Dec. 1, 1955, and the days that followed would move a nation and give rise to a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr.

People forget or don't realize that, in the segregated south, blacks had to pay their fare at the front of the bus, get off the bus, then walk to the back door to get on and file into the "colored" section. If the bus was filled, white passengers had the right to have the bus driver remove a section of "coloreds" so the passenger would not have to sit next to a black person.

Whether Parks truly was tired from a hard day's work (and even more tired of being pushed around) or if she did it at the direction of the NAACP, remains a secondary concern (if a concern at all). Primary was the removal of the block so that the wheels of progress could be set in motion. Parks was arrested that day and by the following Monday, Dec. 5, the boycott (which lasted just shy of a year) was in full swing.

Blacks in Montgomery organized free car services, walked and did whatever it took not to have to suffer the indignity of riding the city's buses.

The events of that year are left to history books and memories. Sadly, so too is Parks. As what naturally occurs, the touchstones to our past fade away, move on or die. It's now left up to our modern-day griots to keep the stories alive, make sure we remember the moments of madness in our history and emphasize the importance of forward movement.

The one-two punch of the Montgomery boycott and the Brown v. The Board of Education decision the previous year caused a seismic shift in our nation.

In the 50 years since Parks' sacrifice, blacks and whites can ride buses sitting side by side, attend the same universities (grammar and high schools largely remain separate and unequal, as in the 1950s) and work together – but rarely anything else.

We live, play and eat separately and seldom do we have any contact on either side of 9-to-5. The only thing that bonds us today is religion. Or should I say beliefs masked as religion.

Belief in Adam and Eve (and that all that's different is evil) is the prevalent thought both in the white and black communities. The new segregation is inclusive because now both communities play the game. We now appreciate filing into the "African-American" section and whites don't try to make us "change our seats" to accomodate them.

Segregation has morphed into a more palatable existence.


Read more from Stephen in our archives.



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