Wednesday, March 20, 2013

For Women's History Month: How to Keep Sheroes Prim and Proper

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted
courtesy Library of Congress
When New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote about a new biography of Rosa Parks, he opened his article with a warning:

“Most of what you think you know about Rosa Parks may well be wrong.”

In fact, Blow says later in the piece,”Parks, like many other Americans who over the years have angrily agitated for change in this country, had been sanitized and sugarcoated for easy consumption…The Rosa Parks in this book is as much Malcolm X as she is Martin Luther King, Jr.” (Ironically, that very sentence reduces King and Malcolm X to two-dimensional figures. But we won't quibble.)

But the so-called "Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement" was not just a woman who got “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” – in the words of her peer Fannie Lou Hamer. Activism ran through Parks’ blood.

Her grandfather followed Marcus Garvey, the controversial Black Nationalist who organized a back-to-Africa movement in the 1920s. She married Raymond Parks because he “refused to be intimidated by white people,” according to passage quoted in Blow’s column.

Frankly, some of the “new information” about Parks had been around for some time. The old story about being physically exhausted had long been debunked. Many biographers noted her time at the Highlander Folk School, a training ground for social justice activists that was established in 1932. 

So how did she get to be so meek and mild – at least in the public’s imagination?

Check out the title of this blog post.

Angry women scare us.  Competent, focused women do, too.  Parks was both. Just the notion of a woman enraged by injustice upsets the balance of power. So Rosa Parks isn’t called a “founder” of the modern civil rights movement; she’s called its mother. And the words used to describe her, "working quietly," "uncomfortable with the spotlight' suggest a modest woman unwillingly thrust into a leadership role.

That might be true, but modesty isn’t synonymous with passivity. Just ask Jarena Lee, Anne Hutchinson, or any women who stood up for what she believed. Even if, like Parks, she did while sitting down.

This blog explores issues raised by "If She Stood," a play by Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson for the Place Philadelphia project. Please subscribe to receive posts in your email.
"If She Stood" will run for six performances:
  • Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3 p.m.
  • Friday, May 3, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, May, 2013 at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday May 5, 2013 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now - BUY HERE.


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