Sunday, December 09, 2007

Remembering Rosa Parks

File this tragic story under "look how far we've come."

I just couldn't helping thinking about the legacy of the"Mother of the American Civil Rights Movement," Rosa Parks (pictured in the right) as I read the news about the beating of Sarah Kreager on a Baltimore, Maryland bus this past week.

Sarah Kreager seems to be guilty of two crimes, maybe three. Sarah is homeless. And Sarah wanted to take a seat on the bus. And, a third possible crime, Sarah is white.

Sarah Kreager was beaten and nearly killed by nine black teenagers on the bus when she attempted to take a seat near the youths.

I had hoped and prayed we were past all of this. I had hoped society had progressed beyond the racial prejudice, social prejudice and economic prejudice that ruled America back on December 1st in 1955. That's the date that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus for a "white passenger."

Rosa Parks was guilty of being poor and tired and black.

I've adapted and edited the Rosa Parks story below from various
Wikipedia articles about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

On December 1, 1955, Parks became famous for refusing to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. This action of civil disobedience started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is one of the largest movements against racial segregation. In addition, this launched Martin Luther King, Jr., who was involved with the boycott, to prominence in the civil rights movement. She has had a lasting legacy worldwide.

In Montgomery, the first four rows of bus seats were reserved for white people. Buses had "colored" sections for black people—who made up more than 75% of the bus system's riders—generally in the rear of the bus. These sections were not fixed in size but were determined by the placement of a movable sign. Black people also could sit in the middle rows, until the white section was full. Then they had to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus.

After a day at work at Montgomery Fair department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus at around 6 p.m., Thursday, December 1, 1955, in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "colored" section, which was near the middle of the bus and directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.

As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded.

So, following standard practice, bus driver Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there were two or three men standing, and thus moved the "colored" section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit.

Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night."

By Parks' account, Blake said, "Y'all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats."

Three of them complied. Parks said, "The driver wanted us to stand up, the four of us. We didn't move at the beginning, but he says, 'Let me have these seats.' And the other three people moved, but I didn't."

The black man sitting next to her gave up his seat. Parks moved, but toward the window seat; she did not get up to move to the newly repositioned colored section.

Blake then said, "Why don't you stand up?" Parks responded, "I don't think I should have to stand up." Blake called the police to arrest Parks.

Now, nearly 52 years later to the day, Sarah Kreager has had a similar experience. And, while I'm certain Rosa Parks was terrified, Sarah was actually beaten and nearly killed. Only the intervention of the bus driver, who was also African-American, and a neighbor living near a bus stop saved Kreager's life. The nine middle schoolers would possibly have killed her had others not intervened.

When Sarah tried to take a seat on the bus, one middle school student told her that the seat was "reserved." when she chose another, the youth jumped over and told her "that one is reserved, too." The incident was repeated again and again until Sarah finally held her seat. Then she was attacked and beaten.

From the
Baltimore Sun:

In a written report, MTA police said the beating took place after one of the boys kept jumping in front of Kreager, claiming that the open seats on the bus were reserved. When Kreager finally found a seat, the teens began throwing punches at her and her boyfriend, according to the report. Police said her male companion, Troy Ennis, was also beaten.

…Jawauna Greene, an MTA spokeswoman, confirmed that investigators were considering racial hostility as a potential motivation for the assault, which left the female victim, Sarah Kreager, 26, with broken facial bones and other injuries after she was punched, kicked and dragged off the bus.

Although I'm not at all certain this is really a hate crime, but just wanna-be gang type violence by a group of young teenagers who got out of control.

Nine teens against one tired, sick, homeless woman.

I wonder if these teens realize the sacrifice Rosa Parks made for all Americans, black and white, back in 1955?

I wonder if they even know who Rosa Parks was?


Vigilante said...

Excellent pick from today's news, Wizard. Your radar screen is incredible. I totally missed it.

Vigilante said...

So is your sense of irony and fairness.