Rosa Parks leaves great legacy

By Joseph Baskerville

On Sunday, hundreds mourned during the memorial service for Rosa Parks, who many called the “matriarch of civil rights.”

According to, she is the first woman to be buried in honor in the Rotunda, under the Capital dome.

Almost 40 years ago, Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Unlike the other two black women who were arrested earlier in 1955, Parks was arrested and jailed for breaking laws that required blacks to give up their seats to whites.

Parks was a hard-working seamstress and was inspired by her husband Raymond, an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Despite the hundreds who mourned Sunday, and the millions who probably mourned across America, how many people realize her great sacrifice for the civil rights movement?

According to the National Association of Black Journalists’ Web site, Randye Bullock, the director of the Detroit convention in 1992 honoring Rosa Parks, said she “personally thought that she was not given the respect from young people that [I] thought was due to her.” Everyone remembers the controversy the highly popular film “Barbershop” in which Cedric the Entertainer’s character Eddie claimed “Rosa Parks ain’t do nothing but sit her black [butt] down.” The comments offended many activists, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson. While this was just a comedic film, and the rest of the cast in the film disagreed with the obnoxious statement the character made, there’s a perspective that some young, and even older people may not realize.

As Tammy L. Carter wrote in the Orlando Sentinel, “how many of us would have refused to move, knowing that to do so would lead to being arrested – or worse, beaten or killed?”

The statements made by Eddie in “Barbershop” undermined just how brave Parks was, given the time period. Montgomery, Ala. was arguably the most racist place in America then, and there might not have been enough people who would come to her defense if she was physically harmed.

Parks’ civil disobedience to sit down, while simultaneously standing up for her rights to not be treated as a second-class citizen, caused or at least strengthened a boycott that helped end segregation.

While Parks defied the law and went to prison for her actions, she was not the charismatic leader most would expect.

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum, according to an article, features a video reenacting the conversation Parks had with the bus driver just before getting arrested. The conversation went like this: “Are you going to stand up?” the bus driver asked. “No,” Parks answered. “Well, by God, I’m going to have you arrested,” the driver said. “You may do that,” Parks responded.

Would we have been able to stand in the face of this treatment and remain calm? Parks made the decision she felt was right. She remained calm and stayed in her seat until the police took her off the bus. Her actions were loud enough. She didn’t need to yell, scream or become violent in her protest.

Her actions led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 381-day boycott which gave fuel and momentum to the civil rights movement. A little-known Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. led the boycott and earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Though today we see people such as Cindy Sheehan protesting against the government, far too many of us conform to the “norms” of society, instead of fighting for what we believe in.

College students often are painted with a broad brush of being lazy or apathetic when it comes to politics and social issues affecting us all. If we feel like gas prices are still too high, why aren’t we boycotting gas companies? If we feel like the food served in the dorms is terrible or needs some variety, why aren’t we voicing our opinions to make a change?

As the public remembers Parks, celebrating her life and contribution to American society, we should all think about our own contributions.

What can we do today? As Parks exemplified in her life, the power of one’s act of civil disobedience can lead to an entire movement.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.