Tag Archives: rosa parks

Rosa Parks and the 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

1 Dec
Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Source: Ebony Magazine

December 1, 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott, a pivotal event in the history of the Civil Rights movement, began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on December 1, 1955. She was arrested, sparking a year long boycott and protest, and a Supreme Court case which ended segregation on public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.

Ms. Parks had been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) throughout the 1940’s and the incident in 1955 was not the first time she had objected to the segregated bus laws. It wasn’t until 1955 that she was arrested, and this incident brought Ms. Parks to national prominence as well as a local preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. Both went on to play major roles in the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks was interviewed by Blackside for “Eyes on the Prize” in 1985. In this interview she gives a very detailed history of her previous interactions with various Montgomery bus drivers, the oppressive atmosphere for African-Americans in the South at that time, and how the boycott unfolded after December 1, 1955.

The full interview can be read via the Film and Media Archive’s website. This interview was preserved as part of a grant from the Mellon Foundation and will be digitized as part of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

From the interview:

And when he saw me still sitting, and that had left the three seats vacant, except where I was, he asked me if I was going to stand up and I said, no I’m not. And he said, well, if you, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you, call the police and have you arrested. I said you may do that. And he did get off the bus and stayed for a few minutes and I still stayed where I was and when two policemen came on the bus, the driver pointed me out and he said that he needed the seats and other three stood, that one, he just said that one would not. And when the policeman approached me one of them spoke and asked me if the bus driver had asked me to stand and I said yes. He said, why don’t you stand up? I said, I don’t think I should have to stand up. And I asked him, why do you push us around? He said, I do not know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

— Rosa Parks

Blackside interviewed other people who were involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, including E.D. Nixon, Jo Ann Robinson and Ralph Abernathy. More interviews can be found here: Eyes on the Prize Interviews, The Complete Series.

For more information about any of these interviews, please contact the Film and Media Archive.

 

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Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement

12 Jul
Interviewees from "Eyes on the Prize." Top row (left to right): Diane Nash, Melba Pattillo Beals, Rosa Parks. Bottom row (left to right): Eliza Briggs, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Casey Hayden.

Interviewees from “Eyes on the Prize.” Top row (left to right): Diane Nash, Melba Pattillo Beals, Rosa Parks. Bottom row (left to right): Eliza Briggs, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Casey Hayden.

A recent NPR piece, Mary Hamilton, The Woman Who Put the “Miss” in Court, told the story of Mary Hamilton whose refusal to answer a judge who only referred to her by her first name led to a Supreme Court Case. The final ruling in the case was that people in court deserve to be addressed by titles (Miss, Mrs., or Mr.) regardless of their race or position in society.

Mary Hamilton was a civil rights activist, a Freedom Rider, and  a field organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The article quotes historian Tara White,

Historian Tara White researches women in the civil rights movement. She says part of the reason is that in that time period, women just weren’t in prominent roles. Journalists compounded that by gravitating to male leaders. But White says without women, there would have been no movement.

“The majority of the folks who were doing the day-to-day work were women. The majority of the people who were participating in protest marches and those kinds of things were women,” White says.

While it is true that women were doing the day-to-day administrative work, and participating in mass protests, there were female leaders in the civil rights movement. In fact, in many cases women were the leaders and instigating forces in major milestones in the movement. Jo Ann Robinson organized the initial city-wide boycott in Montgomery sparked by Rosa Park’s action to not move from her seat on the bus.

A young student leader, Diane Nash, was involved in planning and leading marches in the Nashville sit-ins and later the in Freedom Rides. Nash was the person who confronted the mayor of Nashville, Ben West, with the question,  “Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?” And he was forced to acknowledge that he did feel it was wrong bringing the boycott to a successful conclusion.

Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) famously confronted the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964 by reporting what conditions were like in Mississippi for African Americans and asking,

“All of this is on account we want to register [sic], to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings – in America?”

In Eyes on the Prize, Henry Hampton sought to make a documentary that would fully recognize the previously unknown or unacknowledged women and men who made up the movement in addition to the leaders. But it would not be accurate to say that women were not in leadership roles in the civil rights movement. Blackside often interviewed people who had not been recognized in the official history of the civil rights movement. Jo Ann Robinson, for example, had never been interviewed about her pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott before Eyes on the Prize.

The focus on charismatic and important leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X does not cancel out the leadership of the women in the movement. The lack of  historical focus on women’s role in the civil rights movement does leave a large unexplored area of research for enterprising scholars, historians, and writers. The Film & Media Archive holds many primary documents from this era including the interviews mentioned above. For more information see the complete interviews from Eyes on the Prize.

Women in the Civil Rights Movement

15 Mar
Interviewees from "Eyes on the Prize." Top row (left to right): Diane Nash, Melba Pattillo Beals, Rosa Parks. Bottom row (left to right): Eliza Briggs, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Casey Hayden.

Interviewees from “Eyes on the Prize.” Top row (left to right): Diane Nash, Melba Pattillo Beals, Rosa Parks. Bottom row (left to right): Eliza Briggs, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Casey Hayden.

The role of women in the civil rights movement is often underrepresented and overlooked. When someone thinks of the movement the names that come to mind are usually male, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, or Malcolm X. Luckily for historians and scholars there are quite a few resources out there about women in the civil rights movement. When filmmaker Henry Hampton made his groundbreaking series on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, he chose to tell the stories of the people who made up the movement, not necessarily the leaders of the movement. Hampton’s friend and coworker at the Unitarian Universalist Association, Bob Hohler gave a talk at Washington University where he spoke about Hampton’s plan for his film about the civil rights movement. Hampton originally had a deal with Capital Cities Communications in 1978. Hohler recalled,

Henry and his staff discussed possibilities and he proposed a series on the civil rights movement. He told them of his Selma experience, of walking across that bridge and thinking what a great, dramatic film it would make. Telling the story through the eyes of the people who lived it. In fact, telling the entire story of the civil rights movement from their point of view.

–Bob Hohler (University Libraries National Council Meeting, Washington University in St. Louis, September 20, 2002)

The deal with Capital Cities Communications fell through in part because they wanted Hampton to focus on the leaders of the movement rather than the everyday people who made up the mass marches and protests. Hampton was ahead of his time, both in how he ran his production teams with a mixture of men and women, African Americans and whites, and in the people he chose to interview for the series.

Some people such as Fannie Lou Hamer had already died by the time Hampton began to make Eyes on the Prize, but footage of Hamer’s speech before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, August 22, 1964 as a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was a major part of Episode 5: Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964). Six of the Little Rock Nine, young students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, were young women and Hampton’s production company Blackside interviewed several members of that group including Melba Pattillo Beals and Thelma Mothershed Wair. Pattillo Beals’ interview was a major part of Episode 2: Fighting Back (1957-1962) about the school integration crisis in Little Rock. Diane Nash, was a young student at Fisk University in Nashville when she became involved in the sit-in movement and eventually challenged Mayor West of Nashville during a protest march asking him directly if he thought it was wrong to discriminate against someone solely on their race. Mayor West agreed that it was not morally right to discriminate in that way and that statement was an important moment in that campaign which was successful in desegregating the lunch counters and public facilities in Nashville. Nash went on the work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was heavily involved in the Freedom Rides.

Other women from the civil rights movement that were interviewed by Blackside include Mississippi activist, Unita Blackwell (note: Blackwell was interviewed several times by Blackside), Eliza Briggs, one of the plaintiffs in Briggs v. Elliott, a case which challenged the segregated school system, Virginia Durr, an activist from Montgomery, Rosa Parks, who famously sparked the Montgomery Buy Boycott, Casey Hayden, another SNCC member, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Sweet Honey in the Rock singer and activist, and many others.

Many of these interviews’ transcripts are available to read online: Eyes on the Prize: The Complete Series, but there are many other interviews and resources on women in the civil rights movement at the Film and Media Archive. A good place to start researching is our online catalog, but researchers can always contact the Film Archive directly with questions.

Rosa Parks’ Centennial Celebrations

1 Feb
Rosa Parks in "Eyes on the Prize"

Rosa Parks in “Eyes on the Prize”

This year marks the centennial of Rosa Parks’ birth, and there are several celebrations and commemorative events planned. Rosa Parks’ act of refusing to give up her bus seat to a white customer on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama sparked the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott that culminated in a Supreme Court case outlawing segregation on public transportation.

At times Rosa Parks is portrayed as someone who was just “tired” and her refusing to move was simply a physical act. In fact, Parks had been secretary for the local branch of the NAACP since 1943, she had attended workshops at the Highlander Folk School (now the Highlander Research and Education Center), and was a politically active and aware person.

The Film & Media Archive has several primary resources relating to Rosa Parks including photos and interview transcripts. In her interview from Eyes on the Prize, which is available online in transcript form or video, Parks recalled,

It was not a matter, or me deciding that day, because for a long, over a period of time, over the years, I had had problems with the bus drivers, and this one who had me arrested on that day was the same one who had evicted me from the bus on 1943, which did not cause anything more than just a passing glance. I did have to leave the bus and find another way of transportation home or wait for another bus or walk.

At this point the driver asked us to stand up and let him have those seats and when neither, none of us moved at his first words, he said, “You all make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats”…he asked me if I was going to stand up and I said, “No I’m not.” And he said, “Well, if you, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you—call the police and have you arrested.” I said “You may do that.” And he did get off the bus and stayed for a few minutes and I still stayed where I was and when two policemen came on the bus, the driver pointed me out and he said that he needed the seats, and other three stood—that one—he just said, “That one would not.” And when the policeman approached me one of them spoke and asked me if the bus driver had asked me to stand and I said, “Yes.” He said, “Why don’t you stand up?” I said, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” And I asked him, “Why do you push us around?” He said, “I do not know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

Interview with Rosa Parks, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 14, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965)

As part of her centennial Rosa Parks is also being honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a forever stamp design, and a statue of her will be installed in Statuary Hall in Capitol Hill to be revealed in late 2013.

Ten Freedom Summers

14 Dec

Jazz musician Wadada Leo Smith has released a work inspired by the civil rights movement which spans four disks. The nineteen compositions of this ambitious work were created over thirty-five years and Smith has said of the piece, “Ten Freedom Summers is one of my life’s defining works.”

Wadada Leo Smith has accomplished in musical form what Henry Hampton did in his documentaries Eyes on the Prize I and II. The piece linked above, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days,” is inspired by one of the defining moments from the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. Other song titles reflect different pivotal moments also depicted in Eyes on the Prize: Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless, Black Church, Freedom Summer: Voter Registration, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Freedom Riders Ride, Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years’ Journey for Liberty and Justice, The Little Rock Nine: A Force for Desegregation in Education, 1957, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and Martin Luther King, Jr.: Memphis, The Prophecy.

Those titles are not an exhaustive list as Smith also has compositions influenced and inspired by Dred Scott, Malcolm X (Malik Al Shabazz and the People of the Shahada), the Space Age, and the events on September 11, 2001. The titles reflect an epic historical journey whose guiding through-line is the civil rights movement, but the songs expand and weave into other major events and stories from the past thirty-five years.

The music on Ten Freedom Summers is played by an orchestral ensemble whose core is made up of Smith’s Golden Quartet/Quintet ( pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg, drummer Susie Ibarra and/or drummer Pheeroan akLaaf). Additional players include the eight-piece ensemble Southwest Chamber Music and the entire work was conducted by Grammy Award-winner Jeff von der Schmidt.

The trumpeter and leader himself plays at the peak of his powers at age 70. Smith’s incorporation of the echoing atmospheric aesthetic and tone of Miles Davis in his sound over the last 15 years is now another part of his very own overall recognizable and distinct style. Smith’s sense of human spirituality serves as a grounding point in his approach of the controversial themes on Ten Freedom Summers. – All About Jazz,

Smith wrote the first piece of this work “Medgar Evers” in 1977 as an elegiac tribute to one of the fallen heroes of the movement in Mississippi. He continued composing other works till they evolved into the nineteen piece project. Speaking of the work and its place in his life, Smith has said,

“I was born in 1941 and grew up in segregated Mississippi and experienced the conditions which made it imperative for an activist movement for equality. I saw that stuff happening. Those are the moments that triggered this. It was in that same environment that I had my first dreams of becoming a composer and performer.” – Cuneiform Records

Rosa Parks and the 55th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

1 Dec
Rosa Parks on bus

United Press photo. Location of Original: New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.

December 1, 2010 marks the 55th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott, a pivotal event in the history of the Civil Rights movement, began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on December 1, 1955. She was arrested, sparking a year long boycott and protest, and a Supreme Court case which ended segregation on public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.

Ms. Parks had been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) throughout the 1940’s and the incident in 1955 was not the first time she had objected to the segregated bus laws. It wasn’t until 1955 that she was arrested, and this incident brought Ms. Parks to national prominence as well as a local preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. Both went on to play major roles in the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks was interviewed by Blackside for “Eyes on the Prize” in 1985. In this interview she gives a very detailed history of her previous interactions with various Montgomery bus drivers, the oppressive atmosphere for African-Americans in the South at that time, and how the boycott unfolded after December 1, 1955.

The full interview can be read or viewed via the Film and Media Archive’s website. This interview was preserved and digitized as part of a grant from the American Film Institute (AFI).

From the interview:

And when he saw me still sitting, and that had left the three seats vacant, except where I was, he asked me if I was going to stand up and I said, no I’m not. And he said, well, if you, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you, call the police and have you arrested. I said you may do that. And he did get off the bus and stayed for a few minutes and I still stayed where I was and when two policemen came on the bus, the driver pointed me out and he said that he needed the seats and other three stood, that one, he just said that one would not. And when the policeman approached me one of them spoke and asked me if the bus driver had asked me to stand and I said yes. He said, why don’t you stand up? I said, I don’t think I should have to stand up. And I asked him, why do you push us around? He said, I do not know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

— Rosa Parks

Blackside interviewed other people who were involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, including E.D. Nixon, Jo Ann Robinson and Ralph Abernathy. More interviews can be found here: Eyes on the Prize Interviews, The Complete Series.

For more information about any of these interviews, please contact the Film and Media Archive.

Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Source: Ebony Magazine