[Marxism] Rosa Parks
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 25 07:39:40 MDT 2005
From the NY Times obituary:
At the urging of an employer,
Durr, Mrs. Parks had attended an interracial leadership conference at the
Highlander Folk School in Monteagle,
in the summer of 1955. There, she later said, she "gained strength to
persevere in my work for freedom, not just for blacks but for all oppressed
American Socialist, April 1956
[Louis Proyect: The ties between the New Deal left and union movements and
the burgeoning civil rights movement has yet to be told in the detail it
deserves. This article from American Socialist is a step in that direction.
Written by novelist Al Maund , author of The Boxcar,who is still alive
and in his nineties, he is only described as a prominent Southern
journalist and participant in the new movement of the Negro people.This is
understandable since he had just be fired from a college teaching job for
writing a pro-civil rights article in the Nation magazine under his own
name. It features an interview with E.D. Nixon, the chair of the local
NAACP who bailed Rosa Parks out of jail and recruited Martin Luther King
Jr. to the struggle. Nixon was a close associate of white attorney Clifford
Durr, a New Deal braintruster who sponsored the Highlander Folk School in
Tennessee, where Parks spent some time being trained as an organizer. After
Maund was fired, he went to work as a copy editor at Durr's newspaper. When
Durr couldn't make a kick-off meeting for the Montgomery bus boycotts, he
sent Maund in his place. The Highlander school, which was founded in 1932
and modeled after the Danish folk schools, quickly became a crucial center
for young organizers in the south, according to Michael Denning in The
Cultural Front. In addition to Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer and Stokely
Carmichael also received training at the school.]
Walking their Way to Freedom
by A Special Correspondent
Montgomery How does one account for the boycott of city buses carried on
for four months by the 40,000 Negro residents of Montgomery, Alabama?
Although the Cradle Confederacy has grown in recent years. nothing makes
it seem other than a sleepy Southern town. No new industries have altered
its landscape; it leeches off two air-force bases near the city limits. A
venerable family controls the political strings; Negro voters number a
pitiful 1,600. The Shinto worship of ancestors as in no other place in the
region, except perhaps S. C., and the Negro community bears the surnames
of white aristocracysymbolizing a racial relation that remained
substantially unaltered from slavery days.
Then what happened? Was the boycott an NAACP plot? Although virtually all
of the boycott spokesmen are NAACP members, one has said that the
organization looked down on the protest at its outset because it did seek
integration. The boycotters original main demand drafted at a mass meeting
the night of December for racial division of passengers on a first-come,
first-serve basis. This is the arrangement in effect in most cities.
Two decades of mistreatment provided the fodder for the protest. Every
Negro who boarded a bus stood a good chance of being abused. Drivers, under
cover of enforcing segregation statutes, constantly yanked up Negro
passengers to provide seats for late-coming whites. They passed by Negroes
waiting at stops. Negroes were required to pay at the front door and then
get on at the rear, so that drivers sometimes took their fares and drove
off without them. Drivers even carried pistols in their cash boxes to
settle disputes over change and transfers. Year after year delegations of
Negroes called on city and transit-line officials, asking better treatment.
They received nothing, not even a courteous audience, because the white
fathers thought that the bulk of the Negro population was hopelessly
dependent on transit service. You would think that since we were their
best customers, theyd try to please us a little, a Negro stenographer
commented bitterly. But they wanted it easy. They wanted our money and
wanted to beat on us, too. I have just put them out of my mind. I can keep
THE incident that touched off things happened simply and spontaneously. It
was not a test case. On the night of December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a
seamstress at a Montgomery department store, was returning home from work.
She boarded the bus that would take her to the public-housing project where
she lived. She was carrying a sack of groceries, bursitis racked her
shoulders, and she was dead-tired. She sat near the front of the Negro
section. After a few minutes she heard the driver order her to move to the
backwhere there were no seats vacant. She looked up and saw a white man
waiting to claim her place. She didnt move. The driver again called out.
She still didnt move. The driver then stopped the bus, announcing that he
was going for the police. For thirty minutes the passengers remained in the
halted vehicle. No one got out, no onewhite or Negrospoke to her. It was
the longest time of my life, Mrs. Parks recalls. The police came and she
was booked for violating the segregation ordinancealthough the law
specifically states that the driver can only reassign passengers if there
are other seats available.
E. D. Nixon, sleeping-car porter who is president of his union local, put
up her bond. The following day he summoned the citys Negro ministers and
suggested organizing a mass protest. As former president of the Alabama
NAACP and long-time fighter for the right to vote, Nixon had some claim on
the consciences of the men of the cloth. And Mrs. Parks, too, was not
unknown. For years she had been doing the drab secretarial and
dues-collecting chores of keeping an NAACP chapter alive in Montgomery,
without thanks or glory. Nixon suggested that Negroes stay off the buses on
the day of her trial, scheduled for December 5. The proposal won the
enthusiastic approval of the Rev. M. L. King, Jr., 27-year-old native of
Atlanta and graduate of Boston University, and he persuaded the others. The
following Sunday some twenty ministers passed the idea along to their
NATURALLY word leaked out to the white community. Police commissioner Clyde
Sellers announced that he was assigning patrolmen to protect would-be
passengers against Negro goon squads. The newspapers held up to ridicule
hand-lettered signs that had been posted in Negro neighborhoods, announcing
the boycott. But December 5 found the organizational strength of the
Negroes more than equal to the task. The vehicles volunteered to carry
commuters covered the range of the social spectrum -from Cadillacs to
battered trucks. Negro-owned taxicabs offered a special rate of a dime a
person to any place in the city. Those who walked, walked proudly. The bus
line admitted that the protest was 95 percent effective. The spectacle of
motorcycle police escorting empty buses provided a vivid proof of the
helplessness of white force against the united Negro will. Mrs. Parks was
convicted and fined $14, hut the bus company lost more than two thousand
dollars that day and was to lose thousands more.
That night, at a meeting originally intended to be a religious close to the
activities, some 10,000 Negroes overflowed a church building and shouted
their desire to continue until the bus line agreed to change conditions.
Nixon called the event the most amazing and the most heartening thing I
have seen in my life. The leaders were led. It was a vertical thing. A
timid, long-suffering, precarious community had found itself. As in most
Southern cities, the class structure of Montgomery Negro society consists
of a handful of professional men and a mass of unskilled, impoverished
workers. Neither business opportunities nor unionization amount to enough
to provide a class that bridges these two groups, and the economic
interests of potential leaders and potential followers are often at such
variance as to stultify collective action. (It should be noted that
Southern white society, though generally better off, is also divided
sharply, on lines that are as much psychological as economic. A dominant
plantation attitude and a docile sharecropper response defeat attempts
to gain such basic civic improvements as paved streets, modern sewage
HOWEVER, in the Negro community there is a tradition of organized self-help
bred out of the hard necessity of survival. Basically, it amounts to the
idea that scavenging for a living can be accomplished better in teams than
singly. In Montgomery, when the Negroes provided their own transportation
system, they were only behaving toward the transit buses as, on many
another occasion, they had been obliged to do for medical care, shelter,
and food. Inspired (and perhaps surprised) by the effect their gesture had
on a previously indifferent white community, the Negroes declared they were
embarking on a campaign of passive resistance. As a people they had been
passively resisting extinction all their lives; the difference now was that
a meaning and a pride had been given their struggle. They have remained
solid and unabashed in the face of police harassment, White Citizens
Council threats, bombings, and the arrest of 89 leaders under an old
anti-boycott law originally intended to smash labor unions.
The Montgomery county grand jury specifically accused Negro ministers of
organizing the boycott. Ministers make up a majority of members of the
executive board of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which has
coordinated strategy and financed a car pool costing $2,100 a month to
operate. The movement is, indeed, a religious movement in all appearances.
Boycotters hold meetings twice a week at various churchesgatherings
limited in attendance only by the size of the building. Hymn singing and
sermons make up most of the program. Such religious emphasis is not
surprising in view of historic relationship of the Negro and his church:
The church is literally the Negros only sanctuary in the Deep South. Only
here can mass meetings be held without threat of police raid. Only here can
rare interracial gatherings take place.
The Montgomery ministers avowedly accepted leadership because it would be
harder to bring pressure to bear on them. Ministers are virtually the only
Negro professional men who need not depend to some extent on the good will
of the white community.
The only language of protest that does not bring harsh retribution from the
whites is protest couched in Christian terminology. The Negro, therefore,
must this idiom to air his grievances. Significantly, the choice of hymns
at the Montgomery meetings includes: We Shall Not Be Moved, Nobody Knows
the Trouble Ive Seen and a special set of lyrics to Old-Time Religion:
We are moving on to victory
We are moving on to victory
We are moving on to victory
With hope and dignity.
We will all stand together
Until we all are free.
Black and white both are brothers .
To live in harmony.
The Negroes have not filed a federal suit challenging the constitutionality
of city and state segregation laws, and Mrs. Parks conviction is being
appealed toward the same end. Action against other racial barriers has not
been mentioned publicly.
BUT there is a force among the Negroes of Montgomery who looks beyond the
immediate goal: E. D. Nixon, a tall, lean, deliberate native son. He
declares emphatically, The South will never be free until the Negro to
free himself and then set the Southern white man is free.
How will this be done? Through economic understanding unionization, he
says. But he does not claim it will be easy. Negroes generally have not
been educated for membership. And on the unions side, the national
bodiesespecially the AFLhave not cleaned house. He regrets that Negro
members of the railroad brotherhoods did not seize the recent lengthy
Louisville & Nashville strike as an opportunity to end the non-voting
auxiliaries to which they are consigned. When the Birmingham, Ala.,
Federation of Teachers withdrew from the national organization because of
the latters anti-segregationist policy, he tried in vain to get Negro
teachers to apply for the charter.
He tells with pride of the Montgomery bricklayers where Negroes did obtain
the charter and whites were obliged to apply to them for membership. Their
meetings and social affairs are unsegregated and union activities proceed
smoothly. The all-Negro Amalgamated thing Workers local in Montgomery is
giving official support to the boycott. He says he feels sort of a father
union, since he wrote directly to Walter Reuther to call attention to the
workers desire to organize. Reuther passed the letter to a regional
representative, who in turn mailed Nixon the cards.
Nixon is not impressed by the growth of the White Citizens Councils, nor by
their spread among white union members. He cites several racist
organizations which had their vogue and then blew up, leaving a few men
holding a lot of money.
But doesnt the constant cropping-up of these outfits prove that the
Southern whites are dead-set in their prejudices? How do you go about
setting them free?
Show them. Traditions dont change by themselves, you have to change
them, he fired back. And he told this story:
I was asked to talk before these workers at a creosote planta mixed
groupwhere one white man was holding back the drive to get them in the
union. I knew about this fellow, that he lived in a cheap house with blocks
under it and a privy in the back and a dirt road in the front. His children
had to walk a long ways to get to school. So I used it against him. I told
him, in front of the audience at the meeting, that if the boss set so much
store on his white skin hed pay him enough to let him live in a decent
house in a good neighborhood. Being white aint worth a damn when youre
hungry. That fellow got up and he said, Yes, by God, Ive been the one
stopping the union. And I never thought Id see the day when a black n-r
would convince me to join. Where are the cards? That night they got a union.
NIXON is fairly sanguine about the situation in Alabama. I feel hopeful.
this boycott is the best thing that ever happened. It has shown the world
what is going on down here. I cant say what will come of it, but I can say
this: Ive been fighting for twenty yearsIm almost disappointed when a
week goes by without getting a threat on my lifebut Ill be fighting
still, even if nobody isnt saying a word but me.
The example of Montgomery is fermenting the thinking of Negroes all over
the South. But if the Montgomery boycotters are not to be worn down through
the massive resistance of white supremacists, who know very well its
potential importance, they must gain reinforcements. And if the Montgomery
boycott is to be truly victorious, its participants must be given a glimpse
of other goals they can earn. An obvious source of support and inspiration
is the national labor movement. Union funds should be made available in
substantial amounts. Prominent union speakers should express their
willingness to come to Montgomery, if they are invited. And, perhaps more
painful to the hierarchy of labor, fruitful efforts must be made to curb
the pro-White Citizens Council activities of Alabama unions.
If the union movement does not accept this opportunity to gain the respect
and interest of the Negro population of the South, such leaders as E. D.
Nixon will not be hurt or discouraged. They have learned to endure. The
Negro masses, who never expected anything from white folks clubs anyway,
will keep on taking care of themselves as best they can. And union labels
will remain scarcer in the South than Confederate fifty-cent pieces.
More information about the Marxism