There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rosa Parks and civil disobedience

Sacramento Regional Transit is marking the anniversary of Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus for a white rider with a three-month campaign that includes a 40-foot bus wrapped in a special tribute to Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to the RT press release:

RT will reserve a seat on every RT bus and light rail vehicle in honor of Rosa Parks on Monday, December 1, on the same day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks refused to obey a bus driver's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
There was no sign of this celebration on my morning commute. Neither the No. 82 nor the No. 31 had any mention of Rosa Parks. Both buses, however, had prominent displays of notices that, as of today, disabled Paratransit Group Pass holders can no longer ride free.

Learning about the civil rights movement has been something of a hobby of mine for many years. Whenever I read about Rosa Parks and her elevation as the icon of the civil rights movement, I'm reminded that it wasn't strictly by chance.

On March 2, 1955, nine months before Parks' civil disobedience, a handful of white people sought to board a Montgomery city bus. The white section was full and the driver asked blacks seated in a no-man's section between the front and back of the bus to give up their seats. All but one of the blacks made room for the whites. The lone holdout was a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who, according to Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63," "defended her right to the seat in language that brought words of disapproval from passengers of both races." Colvin was eventually arrested. "She struggled when they dragged her off the bus and screamed when they put on the handcuffs," Branch recounts.

Colvin was found guilty after a brief trial. But Judge Eugene Carter, realizing that E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr and the NAACP were exploring making Colvin's arrest a federal case against segregation, dismissed the segregation charge, thus removing the opportunity.

By the time the trial was finished and the NAACP was considering whether to try to rally the community around her case, Colvin had become pregnant. A pregnant, volatile teenager with a penchant for swearing just wasn't the icon the black middle class could rally around.

During RT's three-month celebration of the civil rights movement, perhaps a seat can be made available for today's Claudette Colvins.

1 comment:

blackagriculture said...

February 4, is the birthday of Rosa Parks and the first Monday after her birthday is Rosa Parks Day in California. The Sacramento Regional Transit is helping to expanded the "Season of Civil Rights" throught the Sacramento region. RT Rider is correct to point out Ms. Covin and begin to acknowledge the many, many others who contributed to the legacy of change, especially how transportation helped change American Civil Rights. Barack Obama placed a replica of the historic Cleveland Ave. bus at the front of his parade as he accepted the Office of President of the United States.