History grad student Samir Sonti writes on Rosa Parks’ forgotten activist past
Essay published in Jacobin and Salon.
Samir Sonti is a first year graduate student studying labor and economic history under Nelson Lichtenstein.
“Black History Month just ended, which means grade schools nationwide recently celebrated how the Civil War abolished slavery, that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, and, of course, how the Civil Rights Movement ended segregation and disfranchisement. Children everywhere rehearsed familiar narratives about how after enduring years of racist oppression, valiant African-American women and men like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. peacefully demanded and secured equal rights.
And in a bizarre reminder of the political significance the struggle for civil rights still carries, Barack Obama and John Boehner capped the month with a rare joint appearance to unveil a statue of Parks in the Capitol building on the same day that the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We can expect a ruling a few months before we celebrate the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where, on August 28, 1963, King delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.
It’s sadly unsurprising to learn that Parks is the first black woman to be memorialized in Statuary Hall, space already occupied by such loyal patriots as John C. Calhoun, Alexander Stephens, and Jefferson Davis. But if Parks’ statue is a victory it’s rendered a bit less sweet by the myths told about her.”