Those who effect positive change in a negative world full of hate and violence have my upmost admiration and respect. That pretty much sums up Rosa Parks for me.
But I never really understood that until a few years ago.
I've always known what Rosa Parks had done... she refused to give up her seat to a white man, was arrested because of it, and is credited with being the founder of the Civil Rights Movement... that's taught in school and is an ingrained part of American culture. But it wasn't until 2002 that I found out she was so much more than just an act of defiance. That's when CBS television aired The Rosa Parks Story.
And the strange thing was that I didn't tune in because I was wanting to know more about Rosa Parks, I tuned in because the movie starred Angela Bassett, of which I am a huge, huge fan.
But Angela Bassett, despite her incredible performance, turned out to be the least important part of the film. Rosa Park's story was amazing enough all on its own...
After seeing the film, I became obsessed with her. I read her book, tracked down interviews, and started reading books about the Civil Rights Movement. She was a fascinating piece of history, a living legend, and was made even more so because she never set out to be the icon she eventually became.
Most people have the idea that Miss Parks was just tired from work one day, and made the snap decision to be stubborn when told to give up her seat. It didn't really work like that. Yes she was tired from work, but not so much so that she wouldn't have given up her seat to somebody who was handicapped, pregnant, elderly, or whatever... she was tired of the treatment she had to endure on a daily basis, and that's what motivated her to defy a horrible law which defined her as less than a person because of the color of her skin. This was the culmination of years of systematic abuse... not some wacky stunt because she had a hard day at work. It always infuriates me when people diminish what happened because they think she was "too tired to know any better" or thought she had PMS or some other excuse that explains away her behavior that day. Make no mistake, Miss Parks knew full well the consequences of her actions, and deserves to be called a hero for standing up for equal rights under the law.
It just so happens that "standing up" meant sitting down this time.
The Rosa Parks Story is available on DVD, and well worth a rental at your local video store. Her book, Quiet Strength is also worth a read, and could quite possibly make you take a new look at the world around you, much as it did me. If you want to read something right now, Scholastic has a site available for their children's book My Story, by Rosa Parks which is terrific, and they also have a really good interview online (even though it's written for kids, it's still great stuff).
Rest in peace Miss Parks... and thank you for being one of those rare persons effecting positive change in a negative world, and making things better for all of us because of it.