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Name Your Daughters "Rosa"

October 29, 2005
By Dennis Rahkonen

The death of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks sparked a flurry of insightful, moving tributes to a woman who proved that history isn't really made by dashing figures on exquisite horses, but by ordinary people whose daily lives collide with remarkable circumstances that command their consciences to take charge.

Then take decisive action, in ways that bring about tremendous change.

Ironically, in Rosa Parks' case, it was decisive inaction. She simply sat when ordered to rise, and move, thereby undercutting Jim Crow's supremacist assumption that Blacks would indefinitely defer to a whites-first/whites-best mentality.

One such tribute is Mike Keefe's Denver Post cartoon that depicts a bus bound for Heaven stopping to pick up a passenger with "Rosa" emblazoned on her seamstress's satchel. "Ms. Parks! Please take a seat up front!" says the halo-wearing driver.

Another eulogy comes from a Georgia newspaper that had so completely missed the significance of what Rosa Parks had done back in 1955 that it reported the story four days afterward, and then only on page fourteen.

Now, however, its editorial writer observes that by sitting still on an apartheid bus in Alabama -- fifty years ago -- she caused the earth to shake beneath her feet, ultimately bringing down the entire evil edifice of institutionalized Southern racism.

Legend has it that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat because she was exhausted after a long, hard day of work.

That view, while undoubtedly truthful to a degree, tends to enforce the assumption that she became a hero almost by accident.

In fact, Parks had been an active member of the Montgomery NAACP chapter, was fully motivated and socially conscious, and keenly incensed by a lifetime of indignities forced both upon her, individually, and all Blacks in "Dixie" during that dreadfully bigoted era.

Probably a day didn't go by in her unfair life when she didn't have pained reason to think about the imposed second-class citizenship endured by her race.

It wasn't just segregated accommodations or opportunity denial that haunted and angered her.

It was also hooded nightriders with lynching ropes, and huge, flaming crosses that were a testament to the most abysmal, "Christian" hypocrisy imaginable.

So, in a very real sense, Rosa Parks was ready for her appointment with destiny.

Importantly, that destiny isn't tied just to the finally triumphant struggle for racial justice that the Montgomery bus boycott she inspired has come to symbolize.

It was the spirit of Rosa Parks that infused every soul resisting systemic wrongdoing throughout the Rebel Sixties. And in subsequent decades. Every battler for peace, women's rights, union recognition, gay equality, etc.

Furthermore, not only in America.

It's said that when Nelson Mandela first met Rosa, he was giddy with excitement, overwhelmed with emotion.

Remember the solitary man who halted a column of tanks in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989? The courage of Rosa surely coursed through his veins.

This past summer, as Cindy Sheehan emerged from obscurity to bring the compelling case against George Bush's criminal war in Iraq squarely into mass consciousness, more than one commentator termed her the "Rosa Parks of the antiwar movement".

Filmmaker Spike Lee titled his finest movie "Do the Right Thing".

Rosa Parks did the right thing, at the right time, for all the right reasons.

By so doing, she became a figure for the ages -- the matrix for ensuing, individual bravery, linked to the collective strength of great movements driven by imperative necessity.

Her name will shine through time.

Those of us whose eyes brimmed with tears upon learning of her passing can make the light even brighter -- more of a beacon for multitudes mired in inequity's darkness -- through a simple act relating to our female children yet to be born.

We can name them "Rosa," and tell them why we did so, once they become old enough to understand.

The stirring power of her story, told again and again, by countless voices, can redeem our entire species.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary for various outlets since the '60s. He can be reached at dennisr@cp.duluth.mn.us.

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