Remembering Rosa Parks

This week, America mourns the woman whose simple refusal to sit in the back of the bus incited a nation to question its racist policies. When Rosa Parks died on Oct. 17, America lost one of its heroes of the civil rights movement.


Parks was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Ala., but grew up outside of Montgomery. She grew up amidst the enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the South, which mandated racial segregation in politics, schools, and transportation systems. She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943, at the urging of her husband, Raymond.


In 1955 Parks did the unthinkable: She refused to give up her seat to a white man. This single action made her part of history and is often defined as the beginning of the civil rights movement.


We often think of Abraham Lincoln as the liberator of the slaves, but we try to forget the century-long struggle that followed the Civil War. It’s hard for me to relate to what Rosa Parks went through. Some days, the most pressing issue on my agenda is that I have to sit next to someone on a crowded bus. I can’t imagine how it felt to be forced to sit in a segregated section, not to mention use a segregated water fountain, or attend a segregated school.


These “separate but equal” facilities created by Jim Crow laws were anything but equal. It took over 50 years for the mandatory segregation case of Plessy v. Ferguson to be overturned by the mandatory integration case of Brown v. Board of Education. This makes the actual Civil War timeline look miniscule in comparison.


Today, it seems like people want to forget the civil rights struggle fought by pioneers like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Aside from photographs and history classes, the civil rights struggle is all but forgotten. Most college students today weren’t alive during the civil rights movement, and Oregon wasn’t exactly close to the climactic events of the civil rights movement.


It’s easy to want to forget that time. Although current race relations are far from hunky-dory in the United States, racial discrimination isn’t as blatant as it was in the 1960s. The defining icons of that time, such as President Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, are no longer with us.


Movements don’t happen in a vacuum, though, and there are several revolutions waiting to happen in the environmental and political fields.


It seems that we are complacent on a surface level compared to those in the civil rights era. Luckily, there are many glimmers of progressive hope. I am proud to see senators and leaders such as Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson and Carol Moseley-Braun. A movement for equal rights of homosexuals and women is still being fought despite the resistance of Bush’s executive leadership.


There are many of us who complained about voter disenfranchisement in the 2004 election, with good reason. I whined because I had to send a copy of my driver’s license to register in Oregon. These episodes are nothing compared to the unfair poll taxes and literacy tests inflicted on African-Americans before 1965.


Unfortunately, I still hear fellow Generation Y-ers say that they won’t vote because it doesn’t matter. I vote because of those who didn’t have the rights. I vote because of Rosa Parks.