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Ramzy Baroud: Rosa Parks' Enduring Legacy

Rosa Parks' Enduring legacy

By Ramzy Baroud

What I find truly remarkable in Rosa Parks’ now legendary defiance is the simple forthrightness of her actions. Her death, at the age of 92, should be more than a sober reminder of the legacy of a legendary Civil Rights pioneer, but rather a reminder of an often forgotten lesson that meaningful change can be achieved if there are those willing to fight for it. Much of what has been written about Parks’ passing and burial in the US Capitol Rotunda on October 30 missed the key to what made Parks so special: her ordinariness.

Rev. Jesse Jackson was most agitated by those who referred to Parks as a seamstress, insisting that she was “an activist in the civil rights movement.” While some described her with such revering words that equated her to a saint; others tried to exploit her legacy for personal gain, especially those with plummeting reputations; one being US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I think I can say that without Mrs. Parks, I would not be standing here today as Secretary of State,” she reportedly said.

Rice — whose prime role in promoting the Bush administration’s unwarranted and often violent foreign policy and war, which is only matched by that of her predecessor Colin Powell — can never fathom the disservice made to Parks’ legacy with that objectionable assertion. Neither her membership in the African-American community nor the fact that she was born in Alabama — as we were reminded time and again by the uncritical media — should have been good enough reason for Rice to make use of Parks’ praiseworthy legacy, unhindered, to reinvent her own.

But of course, Rice was expected to utter the words she did, as much as President George W. Bush — with faltering ratings that took a nosedive following his government’s appalling response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster — was expected to place wreaths of carnations upon Parks’ casket. More, the many solemn comments made by US government officials, media pundits and every word printed in major mainstream newspapers were similarly predictable. They all praised Rosa Parks because they were expected to do so, not because the rebellious spirit of the Montgomery seamstress meant much to them or represented anything.

To the contrary, the meaning of Parks’ legacy, her simple act of defiance stands at odds with everything for which the Bush administration stands. Since Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus on December 1, 1955, to make room for a white passenger, millions of Americans have followed in Parks’ footsteps. Her defiant statement: “I am tired of being treated like a second class citizen” has been championed by millions of Americans of all colors and backgrounds, who became tired of being treated like second class citizens, tired of having their government treat other nations like second class citizens, tired of wars, arms races and tired of being lied to, over and over again.

Reducing Parks’ legacy to that of a precise time in history, place, political line or skin color is also a betrayal of that legacy. What Parks objected to was injustice; what she unwaveringly demanded was equality. Neither concept has been adequately addressed or resolved, not in America, and certainly not in the country’s dealings with other less fortunate nations, where exploitation and extreme violence have for long defined that relationship.

But it was no coincidence that Parks’ legacy was reduced and stripped of its broad denotation. If an honest and perceptive analysis were offered, then many other names, of audacious, rebellious yet ordinary individuals - whose fight for justice and equality is as real and meaningful as Parks - would have to be equally saluted.

While US foreign policy as exemplified in the Iraq war has brought out the worst in American politics, politicians and the military apparatus, it has also brought out the best in Americans: the tireless activists, the human rights advocates, the justice and peace campaigners. They represent important, though often neglected segments of American society. They can be found in churches, in universities and on street corners. While the White House has been hijacked by self-serving war enthusiasts and inane ideologues, it is most unfair to reduce the country’s representation to the war crowd and their misguided fear-stricken constituency.

Rosa Parks is gone, but her country has plenty of great women and men who will continue to contribute to the ongoing struggle for justice and rights the world over. One is Kathy Kelly, who emerged from a lonely voice in the wilderness to the leader of a movement that helped save thousands of Iraqi lives; another is Cindy Sheehan, whose fight to bring US troops home is one of great honor and courage; there is former US ambassador Joseph Wilson who dared question the Bush administration’s case for war and whose efforts are causing quite a stir in Washington; a forth is tireless former Congressman Paul Findley, who dared to speak out against the iniquitous role played by the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill; and finally, there is Congressman Jim McDermott who continues to defy conformity and challenge the senselessness of the Bush clique. These are but a few individuals in a nation that is able and willing to reclaim its rightful standing as a world leader rather than a rogue state. There are millions more who are resolute in returning America back to the path once walked by the great Civil Rights champions, some so great in their ordinariness, in their persistence, and in their defiance.


-Ramzy Baroud, veteran Arab American journalist, teaches mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His forthcoming book, Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising is being published by Pluto Press in London. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of

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