Remembering Rosa Parks

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 5, 2005

On July 14, 1995, Mrs. Rosa Parks began a national tour which had been initiated to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her refusal in 1955 to yield a seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white male rider.

Her heroic stand against segregation laws in Alabama touched off the modern day civil rights movement and earned her the title “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The tour included stops on the underground railroad and historic sites in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington, D.C. and Canada. A group of 26 children accompanied the tour by bus with their teachers. The organizers of the tour arranged for Mrs. Parks to fly from site to site where she joined the students and teachers for prearranged historic tours.

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On July 26 it was arranged that the bus group would arrived at Durham’s Historic Stagville to tour Horton Grove Slave Community. As African American History Coordinator of Historic Stagville, I was also asked to present a lecture and to engage the students in a discussion on the slave community. I had previously completed research for the Addy Walker doll and the book “Meet Addy” for the Pleasant Company of Wisconsin, and felt that a discussion with the students on the slave family and games/toys of slave children would be appropriate.

Due to a violent afternoon thunderstorm, the bus was delayed in its departure from Greensboro. The bus arrived more than three hours late at 5:50 p.m. Nearly all of the more than 100 people who had come to greet her had departed.

My original reaction to meeting Mrs. Parks and shaking her hand was that she was such a petite woman. In my mind’s eye, I had inadvertently imagined her as a much taller and physically imposing woman. She was soft-spoken and a truly humble woman. I wondered how such a tiny, soft-spoken, humble woman would have the nerve not to stand and surrender her seat. That afternoon I had the pleasure of witnessing the spirit of this woman in a small but telling incident.

I assumed Mrs. Parks would want to address the children and discuss her history nmaking experiences, but she insisted upon me doing my presentation and engaging the group as I had planned. She was familiar with the Addy doll and following my presentation asked to see the doll and to scan the “Meet Addy” book.

She said to me, “You are doing important work, and I hope you continue with the grace of God.”

I can still see her fingering the doll’s dress and other clothing and I understood what she was doing. As a seamstress, I had also examined Addy’s clothing for quality of workmanship when it was presented to me an like Mrs. Parks, I too was pleased.

The thunderstorms which had delayed Mrs. Parks’s landing at Greensboro, traveled east and delayed her departure from the Raleigh-Durham airport and the group decided to spend extra time at Stagville. It was at this point that she informed the tour organizers that she would ride the bus to the final tour site of Washington, D.C. She further insisted that she wanted to get to know all the people on the bus and the only way she could engage them was to be with them. She wanted them to share with her.

I was awe struck! What did we, mere mortals, have to share with Mrs. Rosa Parks? I posed the question to her and she responded (and I paraphrase), “What I did is over and done with. It is the young people who have come behind me who have had to carry on and I like being around young people so I can see just how far we have come. I didn’t do anything that didn’t need to be done. It is important to listen to young people because they are looking at what needs to be done in the future. If I limit my time with these young people to what happened 40 years ago, I might miss the opportunity to be inspired by their youthful enthusiasm. I might also miss the opportunity to inspire one these youngsters to do something for our people and our nation 40 years from now. So it’s important that I share the ride to Washington on the bus with the whole group.”

The tour organizers tried in vain to change her mind but she remained unmoved. She didn’t argue and there was nothing dramatic about the scene, but she simply would not be swayed to in her decision.

I escorted the group to their tour bus and reached to shake her hand, but she hugged me instead.

My most lasting impression of Mrs. Rosa Parks?

She was a humble woman who loved God and depended upon Him to guide her in all things.

(Alice Eley Jones is a local historian who resides in Murfreesboro.)