Rosa Parks

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Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress in 1955 Alabama, had no idea she was changing history when she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Now she is immortalized for the defiance that sent her to jail and triggered a bus boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr. into the national spotlight. Who was she, before and after her historic act, and how did it sound the death knell for Jim Crow? Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has been acclaimed for his "vigorous language" ...
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Overview

Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress in 1955 Alabama, had no idea she was changing history when she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Now she is immortalized for the defiance that sent her to jail and triggered a bus boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr. into the national spotlight. Who was she, before and after her historic act, and how did it sound the death knell for Jim Crow? Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has been acclaimed for his "vigorous language" and "marvelous portraits" (Stephen Ambrose), brings midcentury America alive in this brilliant examination of a celebrated heroine in the context of her life and tumultuous times, revealing the quiet dignity, hope, courage, and humor that have made this everywoman a living legend.
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Editorial Reviews

Atlanta Journal Constitution
Rosa Parks is a superb starting point and a vivid illustration of how a single life can make a difference.
Sacramento Bee
Brinkley writes a fine account of the act of civil disobedience that made Parks famous - her refusal, on Dec. 1, 1955, to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white passenger. But this biography of Parks also bookends that event with an informative history of earlier struggles against segregation and an exploration of Parks' active life after Montgomery. The ending, a glimpse at a wonderfully poignant meeting in 1990 between Parks and South African's Nelson Mandela, is priceless.
Charlotte Observer
Rosa Parksis a vivid illustration of how a single life can make a difference.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the second volume to date of the popular Penguin Lives series to be devoted to a woman (remarkably, only four of the projected 26 subjects will be female), historian Brinkley shreds several key myths surrounding Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who became "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement" at the age of 42, when she boldly defied Jim Crow laws by refusing to give up her seat to a white rider on a segregated bus in 1955. The act catalyzed the historic 381-day Montgomery bus boycott and stirred the nation's conscience. Yet Parks has a more complex personality than is suggested by her shy, soft-spoken public persona, Brinkley reveals. Despite a humble, fatherless childhood in rural Alabama, she quickly distinguished herself as a tireless worker with the local NAACP, devoting her energies to area youth groups, recording the problems of victims of hate crimes and participating in the organization's major state conferences. Brinkley (The Unfinished Presidency, etc.) pinpoints the origins of Parks's strength and strong social commitment as he details the legalized segregation that tainted every aspect of Southern life. His short, compelling scenes rivet the reader, although some merely expand on previously disclosed events, such as the wave of jealousy and backbiting among Parks's peers, her resurgence in Detroit politics as an aide to Representative John Conyers and the savage beating and robbery that almost took her life in 1994. Like several books in this series, Brinkley's tribute to Parks succeeds not because of an abundance of fresh revelations but because of its wealth of insight and rich portraiture. Agent, Andrew Wylie; 4-city author tour. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
A graceful, informative biography of the mother of the Civil Rights movement, who wouldn't stand for Jim Crow on her bus. Brinkley (The Unfinished Presidency, 1998, etc.) examines the background of the soft-spoken, prayerful woman who seemed unlikely to become a historic icon. "Before King there was Rosa Parks," wrote Nelson Mandela, and Brinkley demonstrates that before Rosa Parks there was a poor, fatherless seamstress from Tuskegee named Rosa McCauley. Her hometown gave her Booker T. Washington's proud self-reliance, while the African Methodist Episcopal Church fueled her courageous expectations for justice and righteousness. Her grandfather moved the family to Montgomery, carrying a shotgun to ward off the threats of Ku Klux Klan violence. Brinkley reports on a litany of lynchings, murders, and other segregation-related arrests that Parks witnessed before and after she married a barber named Raymond Parks. While Raymond was perhaps best known for his reluctance to have his wife turned into a civil-rights symbol (and consequently a target for racists), the author credits him with radicalizing her through his espousal of NAACP politics and attendance at passive-resistance seminars. Brinkley nonetheless makes a good case that Parks did not plan her epochal rebellion during that bus-ride of December 1, 1955, in advance. "It seemed as if Rosa Parks were two people: one, a traditionally submissive Negro laborer; the other, a modern African-American woman bold enough to demand her civil rights." Each moment of Parks's defiance (her refusal to yield, her subsequent arrest, etc.) is described in detail. Brinkley then depicts the astonishing phenomenon by which a one-daybusboycott turned into a pivotal protest of six months, and he presents the input of Reverend King and others. He also summarizes Parks's historic impact and provides 11 pages of bibliography for those who wish to study the controversy in greater detail. No collection of African-American history should miss this bus.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786229017
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/2000
  • Series: Biography Series
  • Pages: 371
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Brinkley is Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. His books include Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War and The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House

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Table of Contents

Prologue 9
1 Up from Pine Level 24
2 Coming of Age in Montgomery 50
3 A Stirring Passion for Equality 73
4 Laying a Foundation 100
5 The Preparation 124
6 The Bus Boycott 153
7 Strength through Serenity 184
8 "We Make the Road by Walking It" 211
9 Steadfast and Unmovable 240
10 Detroit Days 264
11 Months of Bloody Sundays 293
12 Onward 312
Epilogue 340
Bibliographical Notes 348
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First Chapter

Chapter 1 Up from Pine Level
Nobody knows exactly where in Tuskegee, Alabama, Rosa McCauley was born on February 4, 1913. The town newspaper reported that the skies were clear and it was unseasonably warm that day, but beyond that, and the fact that she was named after her maternal grandmother, Rose, virtually no reliable documentation exists on the early years of Rosa Louise Parks. It wouldn't matter so much were not some entrepreneurial Tuskegeeans anxious to attract tourists by opening a multicultural human and civil rights center boasting her name, and others, less commerce-minded, eager to post a bronze plaque somewhere in town marking her inclusion in Tuskegee's extraordinary roster of African-American heroes, from Booker T. Washington to George Washington Carver to Ralph Ellison.
A photograph does exist of Rosa Parks's Tuskegee birthplace, but it raises more questions than it answers. The faded photo shows a plywood shanty fronted by six wobbly steps leading up to a porch seemingly on the verge of collapse. A portion of the front picture window has been shattered as though from a rock thrown into the living room, and the picket fence that marks the property is severely splintered. But for a sturdy brick chimney, the edifice would appear no better than the sharecroppers' shacks photographed so hauntingly by Walker Evans in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. But it's another disparity that dominates the picture: Carved into the roof's rough wood is a large star in the style of the distelfinks Amish farmers hang on their barns in Pennsylvania's Dutch country. Just as nobody knows where the house was, nobody knows when or why the star was carved on Parks's birthplace-or what, if anything, it signifies. This has not kept some of Alabama's Christian mystics from insisting it was a sign, like the Star of Bethlehem, that God had a special interest in bringing Rosa Parks into the world.
Indeed: Even as a dreamy, mild-mannered young girl, Rosa McCauley had found the black pulpit intoxicating in the openness it accorded preachers to weave the joyous exaltations and heartrending laments that were legacies of the West African culture passed down from generations of slaves to the sharecroppers of 1920s Alabama. "The church, with its musical rhythms and echoes of Africa, thrilled me when I was young," Parks recalled. For a long time Southern whites hadn't wanted blacks to become Christians, preferring to pretend that slaves had no souls. From 1619, when the first human captives landed in Virginia, until 1773 there were no black churches anywhere in America, and the only blacks in white churches were relegated to the galleries. But from the Revolutionary War era onward, African Americans took not only the Bible but organized religious gatherings and rituals as passionately to heart as their ancestors had those of their native African faiths, such as the Yoruba religion, whose adherents memorized thousands of proverbs and allegories. Some Yoruba priests brought over on slave ships could recite a King James Bible's worth of African religious teachings, a practice that lived on in African-American Christianity. Thus it was that at an early age the inquisitive Rosa McCauley began memorizing Bible verses, routinely quoting Scripture with Sunday school pride. Naturally demure, she was reserved in church, but just hearing her family and friends shouting "Amen!" and "Hallelujah!" filled Parks with a certitude in her deep Christian faith. "God is everything to me," she explained.
All her life Rosa Parks remained a devoted member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, founded in 1816 in Philadelphia by the Bishop Richard Allen, a former slave. From its inception, the AME Church, through its Freedom's Journal, petitioned legislatures to end slavery. The Charleston slave rebellion of 1822, led by Denmark Vesey, was, in fact, organized around the AME Church. Congregationalists soon included Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. "The denomination became known as 'The Freedom Church' during the abolitionist movement," Parks proudly boasts. "It was the spiritual home of many well-known black persons in our history before civil rights." The first AME church in Alabama was established in Mobile fifty years later, as AME churches spread throughout the South after the Civil War; it counted nearly seven thousand congregations with over half a million members when Rosa McCauley was born in 1913. Hymns played a large part in the AME Sunday service, which spawned the gospel-music genre from the singing and shouting and dancing in ecstatic celebration of Jesus Christ. Although they observed the same Communion rituals as traditional Methodist churches, AME preachers didn't just intone passages from the New Testament; they used impassioned oratory to bring the spirit of the Lord right into their congregations. Early AME bishops often tended toward black nationalism and advocated missionary efforts in Africa. To this day, AME ministers challenge America to live up to its ideals of equality for all.
In her 1994 book Quiet Strength, Parks described how her belief in Christ as humanity's savior developed after her baptism in the AME Church at the age of two. "In those days, they sprinkled us with water like the Catholics did," she recalled. With no prodding from her parents, Rosa McCauley was soon performing daily devotions, praying frequently, and going to church as often as possible. "I was never pressed, against my will, to go to church," she wrote. "I always wanted to go." Afflicted by chronic tonsillitis, as a child Rosa often stayed sick in bed for days, unable to swallow without terrible pain. The condition lasted until she was nine and her mother could finally afford to pay for a tonsillectomy in Montgomery. A shy loner with no real friends, Rosa learned to find comfort in Christian hymns such as "Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Jesus" and "Oh, Freedom, Let it Ring," which her mother had sung to her as a baby. Faith in God was never the question for Rosa Parks; it was the answer. All her life she disagreed with novelist James Baldwin's strident claim that "to be black in America is to live in a constant stage of rage." The teachings of Jesus Christ had convinced her instead, as they had Martin Luther King, Jr., that a heart filled with love could conquer anything, even bigotry. "I remember finding such comfort and peace while reading the Bible," Parks averred. "Its teaching became a way of life and helped me in dealing with my day-to-day problems." She did, however, augment her nonviolent disposition with a belief that revenge was sometimes necessary. "From my upbringing and the Bible I learned people should stand up for rights," she recalled, "just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh."
Rosa's father, James McCauley, hailed from Abbeville, Alabama, a farm town ninety-five miles south of Montgomery known for its wood pulp and cotton gins. With his light skin, thick, wavy hair, and broad shoulders, McCauley was sometimes mistaken for a Cherokee or Creek Indian, owing to the fact that one of his grandmothers was a part-Indian slave. A skilled carpenter and stonemason, McCauley built houses all over Alabama's Black Belt region, a 4,300-mile strip of rolling prairie land underlain by a sticky black clay soil ideal for growing cotton. McCauley met Rosa's mother-Leona Edwards, a beautiful, prim-and-proper schoolteacher-in Pine Level, Alabama, a town not far from Abbeville. Blessed with an insatiable desire to learn, Edwards had been schooled in Selma and done undergraduate study organized by the AME chapter at Payne University, though she never earned a degree.
The pastor of Pine Level's Mount Zion AME Church-a close relative of Edwards-married the two twenty-four-year-olds there on April 12, 1912, the same day the Titanic left on its ill-fated transatlantic journey. Soon after, the McCauleys moved to Tuskegee and had their first baby, Rosa Louise, who would later recall, "I came along, and I was a sickly child, small for my age. It was probably hard for my mother to take care of me." To make matters more difficult, James McCauley's brother, Robert, came to live with the young family, requiring Leona McCauley to cook and wash and make a home for him, too. "She had to quit teaching until after I was born, and she always talked about how unhappy she was, being an expectant mother and not knowing many people," Rosa Parks would remember. "At that time women who were pregnant didn't get out and move around and socialize like they do now." But Leona Edwards McCauley, determined on betterment for her baby, harbored a bold hope: that just being in Tuskegee, the best place in Alabama for African Americans to educate themselves, would rub off on her daughter. Thus, she taught Rosa that Alabama's segregationist state motto-Audemus jura nostra defendere ("We dare defend our rights")-could also be interpreted as a rallying cry for black pride.
When Rosa McCauley was born in 1913, Tuskegee-population three thousand-had already reached its zenith as a citadel of black intellectual life, thanks to Booker T. Washington. Born into slavery in Virginia and raised during Reconstruction, Washington had come to Alabama in 1881 with the express purpose of founding the Tuskegee Normal Industrial Institute. "I find Tuskegee a beautiful little town, with high and healthy location," Washington had described it in a letter on July 14, 1881. "It is a town such as one rarely sees in the South. Its quiet shady streets and tasteful and rich dwellings remind one of a New England village." Indefatigable, optimistic, and frenetic, Washington was a man eminently in sync with the spirit of his time, and he guided Tuskegee's development to phenomenal success. By September 1895, when Washington made his famous speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition spelling out his pragmatic philosophy on race relations and higher education for all Americans, Tuskegee already held a prominent place in African-American scholarship, an achievement for which Harvard University had recognized him with an honorary doctorate.
Booker T. Washington's influence was unprecedented for a black American: Even Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft looked to him for advice on solving race problems and making political appointments of African Americans. Considered the most important black leader since Frederick Douglass, Washington was forever on the move, rarely at rest: He traveled to make speeches and raise funds, his life's mission the continual improvement of the Tuskegee Institute. Even his critics concede that he was a genius at navigating the racial divide, and when he died on the morning of November 14, 1915, all of Tuskegee mourned.
To understand the African-American condition when Rosa McCauley was born, it is illuminating to read the February 1913 edition of the NAACP's monthly journal, The Crisis, which editor W. E. B. Du Bois dubbed the "record of the darker races." Under the rubric "The Burden," The Crisis published a harrowing tally of the names and hometowns of blacks lynched or burned for supposed crimes-sixty-three documented cases in 1912 alone, in cities from Muldrow, Oklahoma, to Greenville, South Carolina. That same February, Booker T. Washington wrote a letter from Tuskegee to William Malone Baskerville, news editor for the southern district of the Associated Press, condemning American cities like Atlanta where "a man could be punished for beating a horse or killing birds" but it was impossible "to prevent a mob from burning and torturing a human being."
Rosa McCauley lived in Tuskegee only until the age of two-too young to remember hearing Booker T. Washington hold forth at Tompkins Hall on the virtues of personal hygiene or to attend a religious service at the Pavilion, a large tentlike structure on campus. But her mother took the philosophy of the Tuskegee Institute with them and schooled her daughter in it. "My mother was very much impressed by Booker T. Washington," Rosa Parks recalled. "She admired his ability." The McCauley household embraced Washington's notion that high moral character and absolute cleanliness were "civilizing agents" that would help blacks excel in America. "I never see a filthy yard that I do not want to clean it...or a button off one's clothes, or a grease-spot on them or on a floor, that I do not want to call attention to it," Washington had said, and so the McCauleys did.
Along with the Bible, Washington's 1901 autobiography, Up from Slavery, was a fixture in the McCauley house, and years later Rosa Parks told an interviewer that she shared the author's belief in the power of hard work and rigorous thrift. Like many African Americans of the time, Leona McCauley devoured and embraced Washington's "self-help" books, particularly chapters such as "Working with the Hands," "Putting the Most into Life," and "Sowing and Reaping." Echoing Tuskegee's great agricultural botanist and chemist George Washington Carver, her mother also taught young Rosa that there was a use for everything on earth. "I indulge in very little lip service," Carver had declared, "but ask the Great Creator silently, daily, and often many times a day to permit me to speak to Him through the three great kingdoms of the world which He created-the animal, mineral, and vegetable kingdoms-to understand their relations to each other, and our relations to them and to the Great God who made all of us." On the same principle, little Rosa McCauley learned to make baskets out of pine needles and corn husks. As she grew older, she memorized Paul Lawrence Dunbar's poem "The Tuskegee Song."
In his 1971 collection South to a Very Old Place, essayist Albert Murray tells of arriving in Tuskegee, halfway between Columbus, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama, by bus on U.S. Route 80 East, gazing out the window upon the swamplands and pecan orchards dotting the gently rolling hills under a pale blue central Alabama sky blowing a melancholy back-to-school breeze. Groves of towering pines grew out of the sandy red soil, and hungry hawks circled overhead searching for field mice and moles. A daydreaming Murray would "let the seat back" and enjoy the "heavy-duty-rubber-on-open-country-asphalt road hum." Small Protestant churches often posed Welcome signs in front with sayings like: "If you can say ABC, then Jesus says come unto me: A =admit B =believe C =commit." But despite the dazzling landscape and Christian come-ons, no matter how hard they tried, Rosa McCauley's parents found little joy in their dirt-road poverty and the strains it put on their marriage.
Like many Alabama families, the McCauleys had indirectly fallen victim to a plague, not of locusts but of weevils. Indigenous to Mexico and never seen in the United States until it crossed the Rio Grande in 1893, the boll weevil-a small, long-beaked gray beetle that lays its eggs only in the immature bolls of cotton plants, which its larvae then destroy-slowly crawled east and first appeared in Alabama in 1918, devastating the state's cotton plantations and ending its prosperity. Although George Washington Carver had been trying to teach African-American farmers the importance of crop diversification-he would win international fame in the 1920s for his experiments with sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and peanuts-few had listened; cotton was simply more lucrative. Thus, the initial infestation sent the many communities entirely dependent on cotton into boll-weevil panics and unleashed a wave of despair through the Deep South. "As the plantation deteriorates, the big houses go without paint, the roof leaks, the porches tumble down, one field and then another is abandoned to brambles and gullies," sociologist Arthur F. Raper wrote of the sudden collapse of the Black Belt economy. Medical care in Alabama's largely African-American cotton communities fell to near-nonexistent levels, and malnutrition spread as salt pork, hominy grits, cornbread, and molasses became the staples and fresh milk, fruits, and vegetables almost impossible to come by. Even nonfarm families like the McCauleys suffered the region's hard times-and slowly adapted as its agriculture shifted from planting cotton to hay cropping, dairying, and raising livestock. As William Faulkner once suggested, a heroic capacity of African Americans is that "they endure"-which the roving McCauleys believed they could do more successfully in Abbeville, where family members were willing to support them for a while.
So they moved in with James McCauley's parents and large extended family, four children sharing a bedroom with a dirt floor. Leona McCauley found it difficult to raise Rosa in such overcrowded conditions, especially since she didn't get along with her in-laws. With her husband, James, inattentive to his family's needs even when his itinerant vocation didn't keep him away for months at a time, Leona McCauley left Abbeville with Rosa still in diapers and moved back in with her own family in Pine Level. After that, James McCauley virtually disappeared from his daughter's life, preferring to wander the countryside with his hammer, saw, and adulterous eyes. "He left Pine Level to find work, and I did not see him again until I was five years old and my brother was three," Rosa Parks remembered sadly. "He stayed several days and left again. I did not see my father any more until I was an adult and married."
Pine Level was a forgettable flyspeck of a town, like thousands of others scattered across the South, a place where poor blacks toiled for poor whites under often grueling circumstances. The rhythms of the King James Bible echoed in every household, white and black, and Rosa McCauley essentially grew up in the white-framed Mount Zion AME Church on old Route 231, where her uncle was the preacher. She was an equable girl, content with her own company, but just as happy scooping crawfish with the other neighborhood children to bring home for a boiling with fresh corn. Although they were poor, there was ample food, and on special occasions the McCauleys would indulge in fried ham with red-eye gravy, catfish fillets, or braised rabbit, accompanied by turnip greens, creamed peas, and pearl onions. And for dessert it was always sweet potato pie.
As a fatherless child in Pine Level, Rosa counted on her mother for love and comfort. Often, however, Leona McCauley was elsewhere in the county teaching at far-flung black church schools, so Rosa was raised in part by her grandparents. From them Rosa Parks heard about Union general William Tecumseh Sherman's incendiary March to the Sea through Georgia; about President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, freeing them from white slave owner John Edwards's whip; about how during Reconstruction they purchased twelve acres of plantation land in hopes of restarting their lives as free Americans. And she also learned that one of her maternal great-grandfathers, James Percival-an indentured servant of Pine Level's Wright family-was a white Scotch-Irishman who had emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina.
Early on Rosa McCauley learned she was not a full Negro but of mixed blood, a mulatto. In fact, several of her family members were often mistaken for white; her younger brother, Sylvester, was so light-skinned that his slanted eyes inspired people to call him "Chink," thinking he was Asian. Parks also recalled, "My grandfather was very light-complected, with straight hair, and sometimes people took him for white." What's more, "He took every bit of advantage of being white-looking. He was always doing or saying something that would embarrass or agitate white people." She particularly remembered the way he would shake hands with whites in defiance of the time's taboo on interracial handshaking, and introduce himself as "Edwards" despite the Jim Crow etiquette that black men introduce themselves only by their first names and always address whites as "Mister" or "Miss." Watching her grandfather flout society's race rules gave Rosa McCauley her first taste of overt civil disobedience against discrimination. "My grandfather had a somewhat belligerent attitude toward whites in general," Parks explained later. "And he liked to laugh at whites behind their backs."
When Rosa McCauley was ten, she got an unexpected lesson in the extent to which skin color dominated the culture of the American South. Her grandfather had been an early supporter of the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, whose Harlem-based Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded in 1916, called for blacks to emigrate back to Africa. Influenced by Washington's Up from Slavery, Garvey advocated a "new world of Black men, not peons, serfs, dogs, and slaves," a righteous vision young Rosa's maternal grandfather cheered. That changed in 1923, when a delegation of Garveyites came to Montgomery County and held a public forum. "My grandfather, who had been a slave when he was a little boy, looked exactly like the white people did," Parks recalled. "He did attend the meeting, but he was rejected because of his white appearance. That ended our talking about our going back to Africa."
Instead, Rosa's grandfather Edwards concentrated on protecting his family from white predators. Lynchings of blacks had become commonplace thanks to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, a southern terrorist movement first spawned after the Civil War and reorganized nearly half a century later on Thanksgiving Day 1915 at Georgia's Stone Mountain. There, under an American flag and the glow of a burning cross, sixteen racists, inspired by their misinterpretation of D. W. Griffith's new film Birth of a Nation, pledged themselves to the cause of "white supremacy." They proved their dedication by performing ridiculous cultish rituals while vowing all too sincerely to rid American society of blacks, Jews, Catholics, and other "undesirables."
The rebirth of the Klan was in part a noxious outgrowth of World War I. Emboldened by the racial harmony they had witnessed in Europe, African-American soldiers returning from the trenches of Belgium and France had begun to demand equal rights at home. At the same time, many rural southern blacks, fleeing from the boll weevil's decimation of the cotton industry, headed north in the Great Migration to establish new lives in urban centers, fueling a new wave of antiblack resentment among white workers anxious for the same scarce jobs. By mid-1919, race riots were so prevalent and bloody that writer James Weldon Johnson dubbed the period America's "Red Summer."
In this poisonous atmosphere the Ku Klux Klan thrived; eighty-five thousand men joined the order between June 1920 and October 1921 alone. "By the time I was six, I was old enough to realize that we were not actually free," Rosa Parks would remember. "The Ku Klux Klan was riding through the black community, burning churches, beating up people, killing people." Between 1885 and 1918 some 250 blacks were lynched in Alabama, most of the later murders overseen by the Klan.
Historians writing about the Klan's rise through the 1920s often note that only 16 percent of the group's members lived in the South. Indeed, there were more Klansmen in New Jersey than Alabama; Klan membership in Indianapolis was nearly double that in South Carolina and Mississippi combined. But what these statistics ignore is the "terror index," a measure of the Ku Klux Klan's regional strength by its degree of violence. By any measure, Alabama's Black Belt counties would have ranked near the very top of the terror barometer. What's more, by 1927 Alabama's most powerful politicians-Democratic U.S. senator (and later liberal U.S. Supreme Court justice) Hugo Black, Governor David Bibbs Graves, and State Attorney General Charles McCall-were all proud members of the KKK.
Rosa Parks remembered how her grandfather responded to the threat by keeping a double-barreled shotgun close at hand at all times, loaded and ready for the first hooded bigot who trespassed onto his property. "And I remember we talked about how just in case the Klansmen broke into our house, we should go to bed with our clothes on so we would be ready to run if we had to," she added. "I can remember my grandfather saying, 'I don't know how long I would last if they came breaking in here, but I'm getting the first one who comes through the door.'"
It is heartbreaking to think of any child having youth's innocence shattered by the prospect of torture and death at the hands of jackbooted Nazis or hooded Klansmen. Yet it was from that prospect that young Rosa McCauley learned it wasn't enough to just "turn a cheek" in Christian submission when one's very life was at stake. So every night, as her grandfather slept in a rocking chair by the fireplace with his shotgun in his lap, Rosa curled up on the floor beside him, ready to spring to the defense of her home. "I remember thinking that whatever happened, I wanted to see it," Parks explained decades later. "I wanted to see him shoot that gun."
Fortunately, although the Klan used to parade up and down the road in front of the Edwards's house, they never attacked, and unlike Malcolm X in his autobiography, Parks never felt the need to fictionalize a direct showdown with them. But from a very early age she felt the violence of white supremacism, the institutionalized racism that made it life-threatening to break the South's Jim Crow laws. Well before adolescence she learned what it felt like to be treated as a beast of burden from Moses Hudson, the wealthiest planter in Pine Level, who used to hire barefoot black children to pick and chop cotton for fifty cents a day. "We had a saying," Parks recalled, "that we worked from can to can't, which means working from when you can see [sunup] to when you can't [sundown]. I never will forget how the sun just burned into me. The hot sand burned our feet whether or not we had our old work shoes on." When the ensuing blisters made it too painful to stand, whole teams of child workers would be forced to pick their ways down the cotton rows on their knees. "There were only two sets of good shoes in the field: on Mr. Freeman, the white overseer," Parks recalled, "and on the horse he rode through the field." If a child got blood on the white cotton, Moses Hudson had the offender whipped.
Despite all she endured at the hands of some whites, Rosa McCauley Parks never fell to judging the whole race by the behavior of a few of its members, however appalling. In later years she would tell of the kindness of an old woman in Pine Level who used to take her bass fishing with crawfish tails as bait-an old white woman who treated her grandparents as equals. Even as a girl she appreciated that it was northern white industrialists with names like Carnegie, Huntington, and Rockefeller who were responsible for financing many of the Tuskegee Institute's exquisite redbrick buildings. And she never forgot the white World War I Yankee doughboy who came to town and patted her kindly on the head in passing, an unheard-of gesture in the South. Her Christian faith only made her feel sorry for the white tormentors who called her "nigger" or threw rocks at her as she walked to school. Reading Psalms 23 and 27 early on had given Rosa McCauley the strength to love her enemy.
Under her grandfather's fierce influence, she grew up believing what Marcus Garvey preached: that Negroes were the "direct descendants of the greatest and proudest race who ever peopled the earth." Thus unencumbered by any sense of inferiority despite the nightly Klan watch, the little girl could delight in the discoveries and innocent adventures of childhood. In her autobiography, My Story, Parks tells happily of the grammar lessons she gobbled up at the little frame schoolhouse in Pine Level, next to Mount Zion AME Church; of her infatuation with Mother Goose nursery rhymes, particularly "Little Red Riding Hood"; of playing "ring games" like "Little Sally Walker Sitting in the Saucer" and "Rise, Sally, Rise"; of fussing over her little brother, Sylvester, like a mother hen; of selling eggs and chickens to neighbors for extra pocket money; and of exploring the dense pine thicket along creeks and ponds, careful to avoid coral snakes, water moccasins, and copperheads. Hide-and-seek in the nearby narrow skirts of rich woodland was her favorite game, except come May, when the wildflowers exploded in colors across the lush meadows and made running through them her delight.
It intoxicated little Rosa to survey the countryside and imagine Alabama before the days of white settlement, when tremendous herds of bison and elk had thundered onto the prairies to graze; only the white-tailed deer had managed to survive in any significant numbers. Further intimations of mortality came from the weathered graves dating back to the Civil War that stood crooked in the churchyard, where old-timers strolled speaking of Grant's liberation of Vicksburg as if it were yesterday. But when the white boys taunted her as "nigger," Rosa McCauley ever held her own and refused to sulk away ashamed. For it had been "passed down almost in our genes," she would explain, that a proud African American simply could not accept "bad treatment from anybody."
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2009

    Great Woman of Her Time

    Enjoyable and indepth book about her courage in her time element of equality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2008

    Interesting

    I choose this book for a history book report. I enjoyed this book because of the facts it contained. The book had facts I've never heard of and so much detail about Rosa Parks life. This book many interesting facts. Parks went through a lot but still stood up for her rights.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2000

    A Vivid Portrait of an American Heroine

    Written with an eloquence and grace more often associated with poets than with academic historians, Douglas Brinkley's biography of Rosa Parks (part of the highly-touted Viking 'Penguin Lives' Series) is a moving portrait of an iconic American figure. 'Rosa Parks' relates not only the climactic moment of Ms. Parks' courageous refusal to relinquish her seat on a segregated bus one winter day in Montgomery Alabama, which triggered one of the seminal events of the Civil Rights Movement, it also weaves together a compelling narrative of one woman's path from the struggles of her youth in Tuskegee, Alabama to her post-boycott experiences in Montgomery and Detroit. Brinkley's research for the book is remarkable. He obtained rare interviews with Ms. Parks herself, and presents illuminating new details about her life and the Civil Rights Movement of which she was a part. Brinkley's depiction of Ms. Parks' encounter with Nelson Mandela alone will move even the most jaded of readers. Intended for lay readers while invaluable for scholars, Brinkley's exquisite literary craftsmanship has resulted in a work that will stand as a classic, not only in the fields of African-American and women's history, but among the great works of American history and biography as a whole.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2008

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    Posted December 8, 2008

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