Editor's note: Danielle McGuire is the author of "At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance-a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power." She is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Wayne State University, and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. She lives with her husband and two children in metro Detroit.
By Danielle McGuire, Special to CNN
(CNN) - In 2011, Rosa Parks was in the news, six years after her death. An excerpt from a breathtaking essay she wrote in the 1950s about a “near rape” by a white man in Alabama was released to the public. The handwritten narrative detailed Parks' steely resistance to a white man, “Mr. Charlie," who attempted to assault her in 1931 while she was working as a domestic for a white family.
It was late evening when “Mr. Charlie” pushed his way into the house and tried to have sex with her. Having grown up in the segregated South, she knew all too well the special vulnerabilities black women faced. She recalled, for example, how her great-grandmother, a slave, had been “mistreated and abused” by her white master.
Despite her fear, she refused to let the same thing happen to her. “I knew that no matter what happened,” she wrote, “I would never yield to this white man’s bestiality.” "I was ready to die,” she said, “but give my consent, never. Never, never." Parks was absolutely defiant: “If he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body,” she said, “he was welcome, but he would have to kill me first.”
Civil Rights icon dies at 92
Does that sound like the Rosa Parks we know?
Some of the guardians of Parks’ legacy have said it is not, and insist the essay was fiction. But by dismissing the writings as fiction, it retains the popular image of Rosa Parks as a simple seamstress whose singular and spontaneous act launched the civil rights movement that brought down the walls of segregation.
This popular presentation of Parks as a quiet but courageous woman, whose humble righteousness shamed America into doing what was right has become a mythic fable present in nearly every high school history textbook, museum exhibit, and memorial.
December 1, 1955: Rosa Parks arrested
She has been imprisoned by this tale, frozen in time as a silent and saintly icon whose only real action was to stay seated so that, in the words of her many eulogists, “we could all stand up.”
This overly simplistic story makes it impossible to imagine her essay about Mr. Charlie as anything but fiction.
But what if we knew more about the real Rosa Parks—a militant race woman and sharp detective whose career as a human rights activist spanned seven decades?
It’s time to free Rosa Parks from the bus.
Rosa Parks had a history of being defiant, and her fierce response to Mr. Charlie in the essay echoes her lifelong history of resistance to white supremacy. She learned about racial pride and self-defense at her grandfather’s knee in the 1910s.
Sylvester Edwards was a fan of the Jamaican-born black nationalist, Marcus Garvey, and delighted young Rosa with stories of Garvey’s greatness. She was especially proud of her grandfather’s willingness to defend himself and his family from the daily terror of the Ku Klux Klan in Pine Level, Alabama.
“Whatever happened,” she said, “I wanted to see it … I wanted to see him shoot that gun. I wasn’t going to be caught asleep.” This spirit of defense and defiance, she said later, “had been passed down almost in our genes' that a proud African-American can not accept "bad treatment from anybody.”
In the 1930s, Rosa Parks joined her husband Raymond and others in secret meetings to defend the Scottsboro boys—nine young African-American men accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. In the 1940s, they hosted Voter League meetings, where they encouraged neighbors to register even though it was a dangerous task. In 1943, she joined the Montgomery NAACP and was elected branch secretary. The job required Parks to investigate and document acts of racist and sexist brutality.
It was in this context, in 1944, that Rosa Parks investigated the brutal gang-rape of Recy Taylor, a black woman from Abbeville, Alabama.
Parks took Taylor’s testimony back to Montgomery, where she and other activists organized the “Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor.” They launched what the Chicago Defender called the “strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade.” In 1948, she gave a fiery speech at the state NAACP convention criticizing President Harry Truman’s civil rights initiatives. “No one should feel proud,” she said, “when Negroes every day are being molested.”
Foot fatigue played no role when she refused to relinquish her seat on December 1, 1955. “There had to be a stopping place,” she said, “and this seemed to be the place for me to stop being pushed around. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama.”
Constant death threats forced her to leave Alabama in 1957. When she arrived in Detroit she continued working as an activist. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, she worked to secure “Black Power,” fought for open housing and against police brutality, railed against the war in Vietnam, and campaigned for George McGovern. She was an ardent fan of Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams, a militant NAACP leader from North Carolina who advocated “armed self-reliance.” She admired Williams so much that she delivered the eulogy at his funeral in 1996.
Given Parks’ history, her defiance of “Mr. Charlie” in 1931 makes perfect sense and fits within a larger context of resistance to the inhumanity of racism and sexism. Instead of a tired seamstress who tiptoed into history, Rosa Parks was a woman who marched proudly with strength, conviction, and purpose.
It is this Rosa Parks that we ought to celebrate and honor. Her history as an active citizen engaged in the most pressing issues of her time - especially racial and sexual violence –can teach us how to do the same in ours.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danielle McGuire.
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hahah i love conflict this is very amusing
Rosa Parks was
Rosa Parks was invited to speak at the Rochester, MN annual NAACP Banquet. She arrived in Rochester with her traveling companion. She refuse to meet with the youngsters at a luncheon prior to the banquet. She refuse to leave her hotel room until she figured it was time for her to read her speech, which she read as if she saw it for the first time, with no voice reflections in the reading. She and her traveling companion requested special meals. After her speech she left the banquet prior to its ending, and not allowing people to meet and talk to her. Now that is the Rosa Parks that I met, cold and aloof. To Danielle McGuire that is the Rosa Parks that the people of Rochester, MN met.
I knew this about Rosa Parks and it is pleasing to see it retold !
That was a good story and I have no doubt some of it is true.
But back several years ago, I ran across a story stating that the real Rosa Parks was a sixteen year old pregnant run away with a history of trouble. When the story of a black girl being arrested for defying the rules on a bus, started to get national attention ... they covered up the real Rosa Parks and replaced her with a 20 something women with a clean record and she is the one shown in the pictures and now has a statue in the white house of obama.
I didn't think it was very important at the time, and it was well before I got interested in the computer, so to my dismay I don't have a copy of the article ... but, my memory is still good.
What do you think ?
In the words of Rodney King can we please all get along!!! I'm not trying to be funny, but we can' t get along in a dam chat session or blog or forum. Really be human be nice and be respectful do a random act of kindness. Lets stop being so hateful. These are people's own thoughts and opinions.
Slavery, bigotry and racial brutality did not begin or end in the southern United States. They are ongoing and evolving human traits shared by all races and are as old as cognition itself.
So you had a bad day or many. Me too. This country can not keep laying down to every person who is inconvienced. Big deal. Do what you are supposed to do and stop complaining. MOVE elsewhere if you don't like it!
All I can say is really!
yawn....but there is a bridge in MGM named after her...
I know of three African- Americans. They are both white, came over IN THIER OWN LIFETIME from africa, and just recently got thier citizenship in America. I am sorry (well not really) but every other self proclaimed African American is black Americans (or white Americans, or just American which ever the case may be), unless of course they came over THIS LIFETIME from Africa. Then they are African- Americans
Really! Does that apply to all the white folks who like to shout from the roof that they are German-American, Irish-American etc. I see a pattern here. It is always fine until a black person does it.
Yes it would include those people you spoke of...excuse me for not making that clear...however in my locality I have never heard those...around here it is just african American....my point being unless you came over in this lifetime...you are really just american (unless you have duel citizenship of course)...also to make myself clear if I were to meet and African American who was black (and actually came from africa) then I would call them African Americans. (btw the Irish Americans you speak of may actually be Irish citizens...as long as original person who came from Ireland and then claimed citizenship for thier children born here and then those children claimed citizenship for thier offspring then a third fourth or even fifth generation descendent from Ireland can be an Irish citizen without ever setting foot in Ireland)...Ireland is one of the few countries that grant dual citizenship like that)
I intend in no way to detract from the heroic and stoic stance of Rosa Parks. But @my opinion; correct -: As it so happens, I too am a white African. I am caucasian. So, my great grandparents and those before them too; were born, raised here. We are multilingual; to varying degrees, and admire fellow Black and Arab Africans for how they have largely learnt one another's cultures (values and way-of-life) -: and in addition; we've learned to display deep respect one for another.. DON't get me wrong, not like we sit around holding hands singing 'khumbaya' ...
But we endeavour to 'close the gap' - by virtue of a mutual respect of our shared humanity and geographical setting – less set on self – and more on "strength to the people by us being as human to one another as possible", and anyway: IN South Africa we refer to this as but one element of 'Ubuntu'.
You cant be serious. Every Black person or person of color has orgins that began in arfica and that fact alone makes them african american, because i was born in america does not change the fact that im of african decent. so is a 4th or 5th generation chinese no longer a chinese because they were born in america? dont try to limit my culture to just a color.
Why are so many acting all haughty over something funny. It was not created to be mean or hateful but to be fun. People are becoming so holier than thou – but I'll bet if I hung around you, I would find all the skeletons in your closet, we all have them and do you know why, because we are human! so get over yourselves.
did it ever occur to people that not all africans that left africa did so as a slave. africans most certainly could build boats and sail out of that continent as freepeople. free black christians did this to escape the black muslims (persians and moorish empires) that we selling their own people in droves to the british! heck all throughout the 1600-1700s black african slavers called the barbary pirates kidnapped and raped over 1,250,000 innocent irish men women and children and sold them to the us virgin islands to pick sugar cane,. they were even owned by BLACK slave owners. yes black folks.....your ancestors were also slavers. race based slavery is only 400 yrs old as where slavery itself is thousands of years old.
Rosa Parks was not simply african american. she was an american woman of a multiracial background. she was not only african, but she was also cherokee and european. you see what the black community NEEEEEEEEDS to stop RIIIIIGGGHHHHHTTTTT now is the use of the one drop rule. racist slave owners coined the term one drop rule to oppress black people, so WHY do you pick up their torch and run with it? ARE YOU THAT STUPID???!! our president is multiracial. KEY WORD BEING MULTI!
'You people ' REALLY?????? That is a broad and most unintelligent statement.
Africans and African -Americans should not accept the "Black" racial clacification, when used, it is a curse.
what if they are creole? NOT ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE FROM AFRICA!!!! man READ A HISTORY BOOK WRITTEN BEFORE 1970 PLEASE!!!!!
i never had the opinion that Rosa Parks was a quiet but courageous woman...what she did defied the word quiet...
her actions were taken loudly and clearly.
Nobody can agree with anybody for any reason someone always has to disagree and there is no reasoning with him/her
Nobody cares about the Rosa Parks we didn't know? She stood up to oppression and years of abuse. She told the white devil, "I'm not gonna sit at the back of the bus!" which is really stupid, "you have to sit at the back because of your skin color? This story is pointless and stupid and probably has a personal agenda behind it. Sorry editor, your not gonna discredit anyone with this stupid story. Try harder.
@Joseph then why read the story, like I said before a white person won't say anything to a black person but hide behind a computer in which I call a internet coward. BE A MAN FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE.
What about all the other African Americans who were arrested for violating this law. We glorify and honor Parks, but only because the whole act was a publicity ploy by the NAACP. It was not some brave act by a lowely woman. They deserve credit for what the stunt achieved, but we shouldnt be honoring Parks as some hero who stood up to segragation and an unjust law when so many others stood up and went to jail or were beaten who violated the law out of their own principles, and not as some NAACP stunt.
Mike I agree with you. There was a women in Texas that refuse to move on a bus, way before Parks. Park's incident just came at a opportunity time for the NAACP To crate a march. She wasn't an outgoing or congenial women. She was invited to speak a NAACP banquet, she refuse to meet with some children prior to the banquet and only came down minutes before she was schedule to speak. It seem that she wasn't familiar with what was written on the paper before her. After her lousy speech she left with a women who had accompany her, and was never seen again.
"They're incapable of adapting to civilized society" wrong incapable to adapting to a civilization of brutal domination. Seems as if someome has an inferiority complex.
To those at CNN that allow this hate to continue to be spewed, yet delete rebuttals of these evil comments are just as corrupt as those racist that allow such filth. Shame on CNN for not removing the racist rhetoric from your website! You deserve to be in the HALL OF SHAME! You continue to promote this mess by allowing it to continue.
And only an ignorant and naive fool would think to make such a blasphemous comment. Its always the people that benefited from bigotry and racism that support it. Sorry to burst your little fantasy bubble, but just because something is "law" doesnt make it right.
Sorry, but I think that's a foolish thing to say. Perhaps you need to consider what "the law" is that's being broken before making such a statement. Just because something is "law" doesn't make it fair or just. There are plenty of old laws still on the books that are laughable, and I'm sure most, if not all, of us break those laws on a regular basis.
To portray Mrs. Parks as an evil spirit after she has passed seems so degrading. Those that really knows her spoke well of Mrs, Parks and that is how she shall be remembered.
Who is portraying Rosa Parks as an "evil spirit"? Please go back and re-read the article, or check your reading comprehension skills. The author contends that we don't honor the whole picture of Rosa Parks, but just one piece of her story. The author gives us a complete picture of her activism. Parks was an alert, active, engaged citizen who stood for equal rights of all Americans.
You have to wonder at what level some of these people read/comprehend, don't you? Clearly, most need more schooling.
Evil spirit? This is one of the most courageous women of the 20th century. What she did changed the world. Like so many others in history, the moment itself might have meant only a mere passing moment, a time when she was fed up with something and decided not to do something. Ten minutes earlier, ten minutes later, her reaction might have been totally different. But fate and destiny chose that moment for her to become known to the world for her bravery, not just be brave in her own personal world any longer. She was the catalyst, the hingepoint upon which this world pivoted. How did she do it? She said no. That one word, a simple 'no,' was not simple in any sense, yet she spoke it and change happened.
It's easy to read between the lines here. Rosa Parks hated white people. That doesn't mean she didn't have a right to fight off a rapist, or not give up her seat on a bus. Be she sounds like a bitter racist who probably despised any white person who tried to do anything nice for her, too. I see nothing but your ordinary everyday racist here masquerading as a saintly angel from heaven.
OK......I get it.
Any Black person who is an activist for (racial) justice is a racist.
Thanks for clearing that up for everyone here ;-) .
@ Retired Army Officer so we just suppose to let white people keep running over black people?
Umm, thundercat, that was sarcasm!
So if that were true, and I strongly disagree that it was, did she not have a right to be? She as well as all other blacks were surrounded by hate driven by ignorance.
No, you guys don't get it. 'Being a racist' whether she was or not, is never a justifiable characteristic. You can hate all the people that have harmed you and put you down, and maybe 95% percent of them were a certain race. What isn't right is to say, oh well this person is Purple. I hate all purple people, even though this one hasn't done anything to me.
Yes, you can generalize, for instance, I don't walk into the ghetto, predominately filled by black people at night out of fear of being harmed, but that doesn't mean every black person I meet I hate.
You can't ever justify being a closed minded racist towards ALL people of one color, regardless of what has happened to you.
There is a tremendous amount of logic and compassion in your post. I, for one, appreciate it.
Were you alive in the south during that time? Do you know what life was like then? The segregation that still existed? The unfairness?
Nice name. Do you know who fought to free the slaves? Oh that's right the GOP...
Are you serious? Did you read the same article I did?
Apparently, you have never experience any kind of racial profiling or prejudice in your life to say something like that. I'm glad Rosa Parks gave all her energy to fight for racial equality.
So people hated Germany during WWII, Look at what they were doing!! You had to have been there!
A fascinating read! Thank you for introducing me to the side of Rosa Parks that I never knew. I'll respect her memory more than ever now.
"This overly simplistic story makes it impossible to imagine her essay about Mr. Charlie as anything but fiction."
No it doesn't.
Wow – great article. I learned something. Thank you Ms. McGurire and bless you Rosa Parks!
Wasn't she mugged by a bro when she was in her 80's. She freed her people to mug and kill and walk away free. Thanks
Your wording is a bit racist, but I tend to agree with you. This country has gone to hell in a handbasket since the civil rights movement. There is too much crime, especially among black males.
She was robbed by a kid who had NO idea who she was. I'm sure he was instructed in her importance once he got to jail.
Yes she was, in Detroit, but if I remember correctly he did not walk away free.
Stop blaming blacks for your problems in this country ,white leaders destroyed this country. Poor white trash always blaming someone else for your problems .
Wow....you read the hateful posts on this site and then you go to a story about gays and read the hateful posts on those sites. It is true what they say.....bigotry is bigotry....it doesn't matter if it is against women, blacks, gays, jews or catholics. How sad that some people feel a need to hate so much.
"bigotry is bigotry....it doesn't matter if it is against women, blacks, gays, jews or catholics. How sad that some people feel a need to hate so much."
You forgot – ...might as well add Asians, Hispanics, Caucasians, people over 60, Republicans, Democrats, Obama, Bush, etc., etc., etc....
Welcome to the comment section on CNN.
Konrad... As a Black woman, I can't help but to LoL at your comments, while shaking my head. Was that really meant to incite?? If so, it's not working. Just shows how a computer screen & keyboard can cause you to be bolder than normal.
Thanks you James Earl Ray
It says something that you feel comfortable in your vilification of half the human race but you can't bring yourself to type the word "damn". THAT would be going too far!
I know about it all, a lot of people do and the rage about the media ignoring it is building. Sooner or later, this rage is going to explode and these left wingers at CNN and other networks and in the government are going to have to answer.
violence by young black gangs against white people chosen at random on beaches, in shopping malls, or in other public places have occurred in Philadelphia, New York, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, Los Angeles, and other places across the country. Both the authorities and the media tend to try to sweep these episodes under the rug.
I know about it, and there are many more heinously brutal murders by blacks just like it. It's one incident in a list that is to long to name and these people get no voices from these malicious left wing media outlets. If one were to only watch this so called main stream news, you would never know these murders and rapes happened.
A great true story, I have heard some of this from Rosa years ago. I first met her in in summer of 1960 at a S.N.I.C.K meeting at a camp on Mt Eagle, Tennessee. (I was 18) As you state she was not this little demure lady, she stood up for here rights. She gave me a great honor. She said," I like you white boy", and just smiled. I would hope for more to be said about Marcus DuBoise (sp) and many others. Thanks to you and CNN.
Most gangs, regardless of race, are violent.
Don't think the media has swept them under the rug – I've definitely heard of the flash mobs. Haven't heard of any recent events. The real crime that is generally swept under the rug are the billions of dollars of fraud from white collar criminals. One of them, the Medicare fraud by that dialysis center, is on CNN. 99.9% of them aren't publicized. There are serious problems in the Af Am community and culture right now, but which should you be more outraged about? Being mugged for that $50 in your wallet or having $5,000 of your yearly taxes being embezzled to buy fine French wines for some corporate fat cat?
I would be more outraged about the person mugging someone for $50. You see, the corporate fatcat isn't directly endangering anyone's life with his crime. Not saying it is ok, your question was which is worse. Typically, in a mugging, the victim is either physically in danger or suffers physical consequences. It isn't always about a dollar amount.
Thank goodness we have you to bring all of that to light.
that's a lie,blacks rarely commit crimes against white people.
Who cares about what you have to say Who Cares !!
As if there isn't enough rape, murder and violence against white people already, CNN instigates more hate for white people by recycling 60 year old incidents. What CNN is doing is a crime.
Where are the articles and "opinions" about the hundreds of thousands of white victims of black violence, many of whom were children or old women? There is more than can possibly be reported yet you have never reported even one of their stories. This is because CNN condones this rape, crime and murder because this is a racist propaganda network.
That isn't what is portrayed in this article. The article is merely news about a writing found from Rosa Parks. If you have an issue with CNN please explain to me why you are on their site, because I just don't see the point in wasting your time on a website you supposedly hate.
LaneyMaee.............you are so right. Well said.
You sound crazy and prejudice. White crimes towards blacks far out weigh any crimes blacks committed towards white people. Over 400 years of murders, rape, beatings, ect.
Nice fantasy attempt to justify a victim mentality, Mack. 400 years ago it was 1612, and there was no United States yet. Try to get an education to justify that outrage...
Maybe he means pre-US? He's perfectly correct about the date – the West Af slave trade was established in the 1600s by Europeans. Blacks aren't the only race to get screwed by Europeans, though.
You can't disregard history. White people have gotten away with (or covered up) way more horrible crimes against blacks, past and present and you will never hear about them, but apparently it's a problem when a white crime against black story is highlighted. I appreciate Ms. McGuire for putting this article out there. I only wish there were more stories that came to light.
"CNN instigates more hate for white people" These guys haven't stopped crying and wetting themselves with a bottle in their hand since Mitt lost. What a bunch of babies. Get over it.
We were made in the image of God, so if we are subhuman, you are calling the heavenly father subhuman, and you will answer for it at the judgment. PS, I feel sorry for you, and your lack, period.
No one knows what God is. As far as we know, he's completely non-human. Also, since he's the "creator," then that means he's female since only females can create life. As for being made in God's image, that refers to intelligence, not form.
That's an interesting take on it, but I'm pretty sure that's not what 70% of Americans believe given their belief in creationism and extreme resistance to evolution or being included in the primate group.
Females give birth, it takes a man and a woman to create life.
Good for her – nobody human being deserves being treated like this – ever!
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