Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Myth of Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21,...Image via WikipediaBefore listening to the excerpt below from On the Media, think about what you believe to be true about Rosa Parks' historic refusal to sit at the back of the bus, and her subsequent arrest. Americans commemorate this 1955 act as the catalyst for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, an early success of the Civil Rights Movement.

But what do we really know of this historic event? Better yet, what do we believe about it? To what degree has Parks' act been mythologized by the press, popular culture, and even educators? For example, as yourself the following:
  1. Approximately how old was Rosa Parks at the time of the event?
  2. Where did she sit on the bus?
  3. Why exactly did she refuse to move from her seat?
  4. What were her views concerning non-violence?


Why is it that we believe so strongly in the myth of Rosa Parks? For more about the details of this event, see Rita Dove's article in Time magazine. Read it carefully: your own biases may prevent you from truly understanding what happened.
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14 comments:

maddie hilbrant said...

I think this post brings up a great point. Who exactly makes history? Over the years, people have just gone along with the Rosa Parks story, knowing that Rosa was an "old lady with tired feet," but we don't know the exact facts. We just go along with the story, believing that this heroin changed how blacks and whites are allowed to sit on the bus. I never knew this until i read Rita Dove's article in Time magazine, but a few months before the Rosa Parks bus incident, someone else was arrested but their story wasnt perfect for a good story telling, and when Rosa's story came along it was "perfect." I dont think this is right that we follow the "myth" of Rosa Parks. I think there is more to the story than people know and I think this post really shows that.

Julia said...

I agree with Maddie on this one. Everyone believes the stories that they have heard about Rosa Parks and her day on the bus, but no one really knows what happened to her after that and how other people reacted on the bus. Everyone just think that Rosa Parks wanted to sit in the front of the bus because she was tired and did not want to go to the back where the blacks were supposed to sit. But listening to the podcast above, we did not know that Rosa Parks sat there because she thought that she had her ancestors on her side and that she knew that she could be arrested or lynched. The myth that lies here is that everyone thinks that she was a tired old lady who just wanted to sit at the front of the bus. But Rosa knew what she was getting into. And even though no one told her that this was the day that the bus was to become integrated, she just decided that she wanted to sit there and make a statement. There is so many more facts that lie behind this story that no one knows about because everyone just follows the "myth" of Rosa Parks and her story.

CPatt said...

Coming into this post I knew very little about Rosa Parks' thoughts, intentions, and convictions. However, after listening to On the Media and digging into Dove's article, I can't say that I am surprised. So often in history we "sugar-coat", maybe even "disnify" (disney version), momentous events of our past so that they sound good in the present. I remember growing up thinking Columbus was a hero, only to find out he slaughtered Native Americans. Or how about how Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas? Maybe that one is a bit of a reach, but its hard to deny that spinning the truth of history is not a recurring theme in our nation. In addition to this mythology of the "real Rosa Parks," similar to Maddie, I found it interesting that it was practically pre-meditated. Yes, she "got on the bus to go home," but she was well aware of the consequences and the process that would follow, once she denied to move to the back of the bus. This being sad, its important to note that she was also the "perfect" candidate-the audio clip mentioned that we prefer our "black people meek and mild." We as a society prefer women just as submissive- Tim Tyson stated that females should be "demure, modest, unassuming, and unaware." Dr. Rosalind Gill is a senior lecturer in Gender Theory and Gender studies found that almost any advertisement will verify the previous statement. For, more often than not, women are portrayed as passive, in contrast to an active or powerful male. Though I am not quite sure if Dr. Gill's studies fall into the mythology category, it links back to Rosa Parks in a sense that we like to see things a certain way: "black people meek and mild, and women demure and modest." Perhaps now more than ever, these tags will dissolve.

Matt L. said...

I believe we believe this myth because Americans do not look at things critically. We like stories where "David beats Goliath." If there is a story remotely close to it the media will run with it, and since the American public doesn't look critically they jut listen and accept it as fact, and over time it grows as it did with Rosa Parks.

Jackie said...

I think the Rosa Parks we are used to hearing about is a good example of a silent hero, or a quiet hero. Though Rosa Parks was an active member of the civil rights movement, the idea only resonates when the whole situation is passive. Think about how many stories, since the begining of time, have been told and written about a person who has been oppressed and just dealed with it, and then through one simple act, without any violence changed everything. There is something we like about passive heros. Well we like all heros, and aggressive heros get a lot of attention short term, but long term its the quiet ones that make the biggest splash.

Max Rice said...

This post reminds me of a great quote from an excellent John Wayne Movie called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And in the John Ford directed masterpiece one of the characters, Maxwell Scott, tells another character "No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Scott reckognises that people are not interested in reality, they are infatuated by legends. Thats how the media makes its money. The Rosa Parks story would had been so much more un-inspiring if the real truth was let out by the media.Yet think about how much inspiration the legend of Rosa Parks had caused among millions of people.

Adam said...

In my earlier years of schooling I was taught to view Rosa Parks as a strong, brave female activist. For years I have associated her with these connotations. It is interesting to look at her from a different angle. I always considered her this "tired" "elderly" woman. Though in fact, she was 42 years old at the time of the event and even she admitted that she was no more tired than she noramlly was. Nevertheless, Americans and the NAACP have made her into this super star civil rights activist. When she boarded that bus, her intentions were not to get arrested. Though we all still view her as this brave daring woman who wanted to take one for the team for the sake of future generations. In retrospect, I am not quite sure if she was actually the woman that the media and American public portrays her to be.

Kate H said...

I think that the citizens of america like to believe that Rosa Parks was some defenseless little old black lady who was carrying her groceries and wouldn't get up for a big strong scary looking white man but as Adam pointed out she was 42 years old not the old white haired lady I had pictured her as. There is a mythology that the weakest type of person there can be is a little old lady. As a society we find humor in this character of the little old lady and we have all seen some comedy show where a old woman starts hitting a guy with a purse.

meredith goodale said...

I think that Americans need someone to look up to and call a hero. Everyday on the news, there's a story about a soldie rdying in Iraq, but the reporter always seems to say that s/he was a hero, and that more lives would have been lost had this person not died. It's kind of a "feel-good" story that has been sugar-coated, like the Rosa Parks story. We want a stor yabout someone who has made a difference and was therefore heroic.

Jillian F said...

I never knew the exact details of the Rosa Parks story until I listened to this and read the article. I always thought the truth was the myth because that is what we learned in elementary school. I did not know that she was only sitting in the front of the African American section, I thought that she was sitting in the front of the whole bus in the white people section. I never knew that she worked for the NAACP, I think that it is interesting what they chose to teach you as a child and what the myth that you buy in to because that is what you are taught at a young age. I don't think that it is that big of a deal to me when I found out that she is a big part of the NAACP an activist group, I thought that she was an old lady that just wanted to show her stand and be brave, but it was a planned thing, I think that I have a lesser view of her now.

Jerbear said...

I was very surprised by what we learned about Rosa Parks today. I have believed since probably 3rd or 4th grade that she was a older women who performed a random act because she just didn't feel like standing up that day. After learning about what really happened, I see her as more of a hero now. I think that if you are planning a protest like this, and you know the consequences, but everything you wanted to happen, like media attention, happened, then you should be considered a hero among your peers.

Frettzilla said...

After listening to our class discussion i believe that the story of Rosa Parks is mythologized for the children. by teaching children the sort of fairy tale story of what happened it will make them remember it longer in life then learning the factual, some kids might say "boring" story. i also dont think that people can have a "lesser view" of rosa parks now because either way she still stood up for what she believed and made a huge difference.

andrea said...

I mentioned this in class, but i think it is very important to think of when people are taught about the story of Rosa Parks... in 4th grade? At that time, children are still innocent. To them, the Rosa Parks story is taught like a fairy tale.
..."Once upon a time, in the south, there was a tired old woman who worked a long day. She walked onto the bus and sat down in the back with all the other colored people. Then, a mean and grumpy white man came over to her and yelled at her to give up her seat."
When I was young, this is the story i heard and I think the story would have been more researched and less of a myth if it were taught when we were older.

Kimber said...

The Rosa Parks story is a wonderful example of how facts are modified to fit the truth that we wish occurred. Rosa was not a frail elderly lady who believed in non-violence. Instead, she was a politically active 42yo working, married woman who planned to stand up to whites and refused to give up her seat—her seat in the 5th row of the bus in the black section when more whites climbed aboard. As she later admits, she did not believe in non-violence, but was actually looking for a fight. Although history has modified her story to make us think of her as older, frailer, more innocent, more passive and non-violent, the true story still allowed blacks to take a stand. Dr. Martin Luther King did espouse non-violence, and this boycott and others finally got the attention they deserved allowing the Civil Rights Movement to move ahead. I think that Rosa Parks actions were admirable even if there was planning and foresight involved. Even if her own ideals did not parallel the non-violent ideals Dr. King, even if the story is retold with modifications, the end result is the freedom and equality that were finally achieved through the Civil Rights Movement.