In Memory of Rosa Parks—Resister

"People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Revolution #021, November 6, 2005, posted at

On Monday, October 24, Rosa Parks died at 92 years old. On December 1, 1955, she refused to move into the Blacks-only segregated section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus and was arrested. In the space of a few days, the Black people of Montgomery organized a bus boycott, setting off a year-long struggle that ended in desegregated busses in Montgomery and a galvanized people throughout the South.

Rosa Parks was a long-time resister. She had first refused to move to the back of the bus in 1943 and had been evicted by the white driver; but that, in her words, "did not cause anything more than a passing glance." To ride the bus, Black people had to pay up front and then board at the back. If the white section filled up, then Blacks were compelled to give up their seats to whites. And the drivers were often abusive and nasty, and sometimes drove away after people paid their fare but before they could board. The whole thing was an ugly institution, designed to humiliate people and break their spirit, one part of a whole way of life that went by the name of Jim Crow.

Other Black people had also fought back--including Claudette Colvin, a Black teenager, who in the spring of 1955 had resisted both the bus driver’s demands and the police who came to arrest her. And Rosa Parks herself came out of the tradition of struggle. Her husband, Raymond Parks, had fought against the frameup of the Scottsboro boys back in the 1930s--nine young African-American men who were framed for the rape of two white women and sentenced to death, except for the one defendant who was 13 years old and got life. The Scottsboro Boys spent years in jail and only achieved their release after a massive campaign against this injustice, in which the Communist Party and other progressive forces played a key part, and only after many appeals and retrials. This too was typical of what Black people had to put up with--and resist--in the "Old South."

Rosa Parks had also become active in her own right, working in the local NAACP and attending an organizers’ school in Tennessee run by progessives. By the time she refused to give up her seat in 1955 she was part of an organized network. Moreover, the brutal lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi just a few months earlier, and the brave stand taken by his mother in demanding an open-casket funeral in Chicago, had fanned the deep anger of the masses of Black people. A new spirit of resistance spread in the South. All this formed the backdrop against which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.

Rosa Parks’s refusal did not start out as part of a larger plan, but word of her arrest electrified politically active Black people in Montgomery. By evening people were planning what to do. The very next morning, a Friday, saw 52,000 leaflets go out throughout the city--and this was in the days of mimeo machines! A weekend of activity and spreading the word--which received the unwitting help of the city’s daily paper when it front-paged the story of the planned boycott in the Sunday edition--led to a near-total boycott on Monday morning. Despite having to walk to work for months; despite having to brave Klan violence (which included bombing the homes of the boycott’s leadership); despite facing severe legal and economic reprisals: the Black masses held firm. Slowly--and then more quickly, after the failed attempts to repress the boycott--word of the struggle spread through the South and then the whole nation. After a long battle, on December 20, 1956--a full year after the boycott started--the busses of Montgomery were desegregated. The victory had been won, but the battle against the whole Jim Crow system--or more accurately, a new stage in that battle--had just begun.

The system of segregation that Rosa Parks fought arose out of a specific structure of class and national oppression.1 In 1876, a decade after the Civil War, the triumphant northern capitalists made a deal with the southern plantation owners to force Black people into a condition of semi-slavery on the land. Segregation and Jim Crow terror, including lynching, was put in place to enforce those conditions. Going back further, slavery itself had earlier arisen from the demands of capitalism and the relentless drive for profit, and had generated its own ideas and systems of rule to justify it. And because those underlying roots have never been torn up, new forms of oppression have arisen on top of and in place of the old. The struggle for freedom continues, and can only be resolved by a revolution that aims at doing away with national oppression root and branch, and the capitalist system that sustains and feeds off it.

This week Rosa Parks’s body will lie in state in Washington, D.C. Many honest tears will fall. And there will also be rivers of crocodile tears and much flowery oratory from those who’ve taken advantage of and defended white supremacy at every turn, in even more perverse forms than the Jim Crow south, and from those who just two months ago authored the 21st-century racism of Katrina and its aftermath--most notably George W. Bush. Hypocrisy in America knows no bounds.

But the masses of people can take pride in and draw lessons from the real legacy of Rosa Parks: the moral certitude in the face of unjust authority and the potential power of that sheer defiance when it spreads to and links with the anger, determination, and organization of the masses. Those lessons can and must be applied today.


1 National oppression refers to the oppression of whole peoples, in which all classes of the nation suffer under the yoke of a dominant, oppressor nation. Black people were forged a separate, but oppressed, nation in the Black Belt South after the Civil War, under the domination of the white supremacist United States, and this national oppression endures today, in different forms.

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From RCP, Detroit Branch

Needed: Rosa Parks' Courage

The following is excerpted from a statement by the Revolutionary Communist Party, Detroit Branch:

Rosa Parks worked her whole life to end discrimination and inequality. But the system she fought still exists, led by a regime that is openly racist, even genocidal. She died shortly after the world witnessed the mass murder of mostly Black people carried out by the Bush regime in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Troops were pulled off search-and-rescue to stand in front of stores with rifles pointed at people desperately needing food and medicine. People were prevented from leaving the city, and were herded into a convention center without adequate food or necessities. The superdome reminded many of the hold of a slave ship. Aid sent from all over the world was stopped from going into the city.

In the midst of this Barbara Bush said, "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Richard Baker (Rep., 6th Congressional District of Louisiana) said, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." And William Bennett, advisor to George W. Bush, only weeks after Katrina, underscored the genocidal thrust to the Bush regime: "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country."

Even if there were no other crimes, the Bush regime's actions against African-Americans are crimes against humanity and warrant them being driven out of power right now. But there is also the torture against prisoners of war at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani people killed by U.S. troops, the attacks on women, especially on the right to choose. There is an urgent need to drive out the Bush regime.

On November 2, be one of the tens of thousands across the country taking the first step to change the course of history, acting under the call, "The World Can't Wait: Drive Out the Bush Regime!" Be one of those to say "it stops with me!"

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