The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 45           November 21, 2005  
Rosa Parks: cadre of working-class
movement that ended Jim Crow
WASHINGTON—Karla Johnson and her friend Sheila Harkins were among the 40,000 people who stood in line for hours October 31 here to pay last respects to Rosa Parks. “I’ve got to find out more about her, what it was like then, and what really happened said Harkins,” 26, from nearby Alexandria, Virginia.

Parks was effectively given a state funeral. Her casket lay in the Capitol Rotunda for viewing—the first woman and second Black to be afforded that distinction. President George Bush, leading capitalist politicians in the House and Senate, and a host of others were present for the opening of the viewing. But as Harkins noted, “She’s getting all this recognition now, but back then she was just another Black women who didn’t know her place.”

Furthermore, the reason state authorities are canonizing Parks now is to gut the content of the movement she was part of of its working-class character and revolutionary potential.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. She was arrested, jailed, and charged with violating the city’s Jim Crow segregation laws, which required that Blacks give up their seats to whites in public transportation vehicles and that they be relegated to separate facilities from whites in drinking fountains, bathrooms, or locker rooms. These laws legally relegated Blacks to second-class status in all aspects of life throughout the South. Her action became the catalyst for a victorious 13-month boycott and protest against segregated public transportation in the city.

Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress at the time of her arrest, had been an active member and occasional officer of the Montgomery NAACP. She had worked with E.D. Nixon, the principal organizer of the boycott, on voter registration efforts as an NAACP secretary.

Nixon was a respected trade unionist, a regional official of the Sleeping Car Porters union, and a leader of the Montgomery and Alabama chapters of the NAACP. All that year Nixon had attempted to get a test case on which to challenge segregation on city buses and to launch a boycott. After Parks’s arrest it was Nixon who provided an attorney and bailed her out of jail.

The day after Parks was arrested Nixon called several preachers inviting them to a meeting to discuss launching the boycott. One of them was a young minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., who initially hesitated but later agreed. When the 70 Black leaders met in the basement of King’s church, flyers were already circulating calling for a one-day boycott on December 5, the day Parks was scheduled to go to trial. Nixon had arranged with the Women’s Political Council, a Black women’s civic organization, to print and distribute thousands of the flyers.

The boycott was a resounding success, with 75 percent of Black riders staying off the buses. Parks was convicted anyway and fined $14. That evening, a meeting of 5,000 Blacks at the Holt Street Baptist Church launched an ongoing bus boycott.

Over the next year Nixon’s and King’s homes would be bombed. Court indictments were handed down against 90 leaders of the boycott, including several drivers of the car pool formed to provide transportation for those boycotting segregated buses. The White Citizen’s Council threatened to have anyone supporting the boycott fired from their jobs. But local merchants disavowed the council when Blacks threatened in response to extend the boycott to their stores.

“The Montgomery Improvement Association, which is conducting the magnificent protest movement against Jim Crow segregation on the bus lines of Montgomery, Alabama, has issued an urgent appeal for funds,” said Farrell Dobbs, presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, in a statement featured on the front page of the March 19, 1956, Militant. “The money is needed to keep their car pools going….

“The struggle to batter down color segregation of the bus lines of Montgomery is not the concern of the Negro community alone. On the contrary. It is a cause which is vital to all of the working people of this country and especially to the organized labor movement. The inspiring action organized and led by the Montgomery Improvement Association has done more to prepare the ground for the union organization of the open-shop South than anything the leaders of the combined AFL-CIO have done in the past decade.

“Not a single Negro in Montgomery, Alabama, should be compelled to walk because of the lack of money to operate their car pool!

“The Negro people of Montgomery are now manning the longest picket line in the world….

“Every union local, every worker in office, factory or workshop, must make it a personal obligation to take action NOW! This is no time for passing the buck! This is the time to collect it and send it to the Montgomery Improvement Association care of the Rev. M. L. King, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama.”

Segregation of the city’s buses ended after a 382-day struggle.
Related articles:
FRANCE: Unrest spreads among youth, workers of African descent
Gov’t declares state of emergency, orders curfews
Malcolm X: There is no polite rebellion  
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