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October 25, 2005


Thanks for this. I don't have a lot to add, but I sure wouldn't want her passing to go unmarked.

I was listening today to Joan Baez' version of Steve Earl's Christmas in Washington and it had me thinking about Rosa Parks, and how she's joining the pantheon of civil rights leaders who have passed, and how we may some day face a world where we think quietly "I wish Rosa Parks were here," and how perhaps we may have been facing that world in many places and many ways even while she was.

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
And if you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help us out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

There's foxes in the hen house now
And cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
And their proud banners torn
And if you listen to the radio
You'd think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
We're going straight to hell

So come back, Emma Goldman
And rise up, old Joe Hill
The barricades are going up
And they cannot break our will
Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We're marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring

The next time that song is written she'll be in it.

I was struck by Michigan Radio's (NPR) coverage of Parks today.

Not a mention that Parks was local--at least not that I heard.

That song gives me goosebumps. First time I heard it years ago I was stunned, and listened to it on repeat about 15 times in a row. And his singing! The worldweariness of his voice, the laconic but still angry delivery...it's pure genius.

Thanks for reminding me of that song. A song by Steve Earle would, indeed, be quite a fitting tribute to Rosa Parks.

I heard the NPR piece on one of the top-of-the-hour feeds this afternoon, and it was by Jerome Vaughn, of Detroit NPR station WDET. It mentioned her move to Michigan, working 20+ years for Conyers, etc.

Thank you for this. I hadn't realized the reasons that she moved to Detroit. I grew up there, and while I was always aware that she was living in the city, I had no idea of the price she paid for her activism.


Thank you for your piece on Rosa Parks. It is always good to hear a European-American (I suspect) use the term "Jim Crow." After 1865, while it was no longer legal to sell human flesh, Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from access to education, credit, and votng rights. This has left African Americans at greater risk to substance abuse, mental illness, unemployment, and incarceration. What is still not well understood is that literacy causes fundamental shifts in brain physiology. It matters with respect to SAT, ACT scores, how many prior generations were literate. In this respect African Americans are still at a huge disadvantage, because it was against the law for them to learn how to read prior to 1865. In 1920 the state of Florida had four high schools that allowed non-European Americans to attend. Until the Civil Rights laws of the 1960's, white supremacy (Jim Crow) laws were common.

IMO, Rosa Parks' quiet dignity would fit a lot better in the Jefferson Memorial than Tom's. I have no problem with Tom staying in the Memorial, but I sure would like it if they would add Ms. Parks, Dr. King, Medgar Evers, and some others, and rename it.

We are all Americans. If we have left some of our brothers and sisters behind, it is the responsibility of all of us to help. Ms. Parks can be as much of a visionary and hero for European Americans as she is for African Americans.

BTW, it is my understanding that the two Montgomery policeman, who arrested her, did not beat Ms. Parks after she was arrested. In later years this omission, I strongly suspect, was perceived as a "black mark" on their records within large portions of the Montgomery Police department. Your surfacing of Detroit as the place of her death, imo deserves all the attention you gave it.

Thanks for your article. I read with interest your fine comments about the Weimar republic in Germany. No surprise to me that with your fine knowledge of history, you would be the one to write about an American hero who imo stands eye to eye with Washington and Lincoln.
John Casper

There is considerable material on Rosa Parks life and work in the Highlander Folk School Archives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society. That Archive has many collections from the very early part of the 20th century civil rights movement -- they have the SNCC records for instance, as well as much oral history from important leaders, such as E. D. Nixon, the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Workers in Montgomery, who along with J. Phillip Randolph played a critical role in the Montgomery Improvement Association in the mid 1950's. For a fairly detailed history, the first volume of Taylor Branch's proposed 3 volume biography of MLK -- Parting the Waters, has several excellent chapters on the Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks. (Taylor Branch -- when are you going to finish the last volume??)

Highlander did a very lengthy Oral History of Parks somewhat after she moved to Detroit -- I remember it being dated in the mid to late 60's. She also did another one with them which was never broadcast -- it was a Bill Moyers interview, that I believe he did at the same time he did the 2 hour PBS interview with Myles Horton, the founder and director of Highlander.

Having said this -- the "little woman" was not Rosa Parks -- hardly. She was not in Montgomery working as a seamstress -- though in Jim Crow days that was cover -- she was working for Aubry Williams, who owned and managed "Southern Farmer" -- a laberal monthly that he had purchased in 1943 with a grant from the Marshall Field Foundation. The grant was organized for Williams by Eleanor Roosevelt shortly after FDR's death, when a group of Southern New Dealers decided to leave Government, and go back South and contribute to movement building. Williams had served as deputy to Harry Hopkins when he headed WPA in the mid 1930's. Eleanor worked closely with Mary McLloyd Bethune -- and I believe Rosa Parks came into all this via Bethune's introduction. She was college educated, and worked as an editor.

There are two reasons you don't know all this. One is because of the need for Cover for movement work in the 40's and 50's, and the other was because between the FBI and James Eastland this group was investigated as Communists to a fair thee well. In fact, there were Billboards all over the South with Rosa and MLK and a very young Andrew Young identifying them as participants in a "communist training camp" (In fact they were at Highlander -- the only place in the south where you could have week long racially integrated meetings.) Along with "Impeach Earl Warren" signs, it was blanket coverage. Eventually the state of Tennessee closed the school and confiscated the land on the grounds that they had sold beer without a license (1961). They would buy a 24 bottle case, they used an honor system -- if you wanted a beer you put a quarter in the box, and when it was empty, someone would drive to the store, return the empties, and use the quarters to buy more. For that, the only conference center in the south was closed down and sold for a country club -- whites only.

Rosa Parks was a delightful, and rather witty lady. I met her in the late 50's just as she was making the move to Detroit, as MLK and Coretta brought her to my college campus for a long weekend. She had lived in danger long enough, and wanted a more quiet life, moreover the UAW had made a job offer better than anything she could expect in the South. It was perhaps eight years later that Conyers was elected, and she moved to his district office.

Rosa Parks was really one of the last of the early modern founders of the movement that came to bloom in the 1960's. It didn't all suddenly happen with a sit-down strike on a bus or a masterful speech at the Lincoln memorial -- there were thirty or fourty years of hard planning behind that, lots of investigations, Klan threats, and all the rest as a very diverse group of people tried to conceive of and organize a mass movement that could succeed in the US. Roas Parks is one of the last who was part of all that.

I know I'm several days behind you here, but I wanted to chime in about the Highlander School. I live about 45 minutes from the original site in TN. After hearing about it at Rosa Park's memorial, I've learned as much as I could. today I visited Monteagle and a policeman directed me to the site of the original Higlander. They (government) may have planned a country club, but it looks more like they just wanted to get it off their hands. Several old buildings remain, and the Horton family is buried in a cemetery across the street. Several new modular homes have gone up in the vicinity.

I wondered if the people now occupying the old highlander buildings now the significance of their property.

If rosa parks was married, then did she have any kids?

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