Rosa Parks Honored with Life-Size Statue as Supreme Court Reviews Voting Rights Act

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Rosa Parks, whose unwillingness to give up her seat on a crowded, segregated Montgomery Ala., bus, was a lynchpin in the burgeoning civil rights movement and passage of the Voting Rights Act, was honored with a life-size statue in the Capitol earlier this week.

The dedication ceremony took place at a time when Voting Rights Act is facing a legal challenge at the  U.S. Supreme Court, across the street from the Capitol.

“This morning, we celebrate a seamstress, slight of stature but mighty in courage,” President Obama said. “In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world.

 “And today, she takes her rightful place among those who shaped this nation’s course,” We do well by placing a statue of her here,” he added. “But we can do no greater honor than to remember and to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.”

The statue of Mrs. Parks (1913-2005) will sit in Statuary Hall. Lawmakers often pass the location while Congress is in session.

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said,“To honor Rosa Parks in the fullest manner, each of us must do our part to preserve what has been gained, to defend the great documents upon which those gains were obtained, and continue our pursuit of a more perfect union.”

"I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.It was not pre-arranged. It just happened that the driver made a demand and I just didn't feel like obeying his demand. I was quite tired after spending a full day working." Rosa Parks said after her act of defiance.

In November of 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws allowing racial segregation on public buses. The battle to desegregate buses and other public facilities fueled the Civil Rights Movement and drew attention to the cause throughout the nation. 

Approximately 40,000 people participated in the Montgomery bus boycott within two days of Parks’ arrest.  Dr. Martin Luther King, 26, delivered an inspiring speech to supporters of the boycott. , "If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong." King was a highly visible figure during the boycott.

Rosa PArks on busOn Montgomery buses, white people who boarded the bus took seats in the front rows, filling the bus toward the back. Black people who boarded the bus took seats in the back rows, filling the bus toward the front. Eventually, the two sections would meet, and the bus would be full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand, so that a new row for white people could be created. Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back.

The boycott lasted until December 1956. The bus company suffered economically; violence erupts; bombs are thrown at organizers' homes; and the white Citizens Council and the Ku Klux Klan hold rallies.

"Mrs. Parks’ arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest," Dr. King wrote in his 1958 book, "Stride toward Freedom." The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices."

Rosa ParksRosa Parks was an active member in the Montgomery N.A.A.C.P. chapter, and she and her husband, Raymond, a barber, had taken part in voter registration drives.

She attended interracial leadership meetings in 1955, which she said, helped changed her perspective. She said she, "gained strength to persevere in my work for freedom, not just for blacks but for all oppressed people."

However, the day she refused to give up her seat, she said was not planning on becoming "the mother of the civil rights movement," as many would later describe her. She had some important things to do in the evening and needed to get home."So it was not a time for me to be planning to get arrested," she said

"My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest," she said. "I did a lot of walking in Montgomery."

In a strange twist of fate in1943, a driver named James Blake ejected Mrs. Parks from his bus. Believe it or not, he was driving the Cleveland Avenue bus on Dec. 1, 1955, on which Mrs. Parks stepped on.  He told four blacks  to give up their seats in the middle section so a lone white man could sit. Three were willing to so.

Recalling the incident for "Eyes on the Prize," a 1987 public television series on the civil rights movement, Parks said: "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.' "

The group’s demands seem simple today: that they be treated with courtesy, that black drivers be hired, and that seating in the middle of the bus go on a first-come basis.

According to The New York Times, “The boycott lasted 381 days, and in that period many blacks were harassed and arrested on flimsy excuses. Churches and houses, including those of Dr. King and (others), were dynamited.

“Finally, on Nov. 13, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on buses. The court order arrived in Montgomery on Dec. 20; the boycott ended the next day. But the violence escalated: snipers fired into buses as well as Dr. King's home, and bombs were tossed into churches and into the homes of ministers.”

Pressure increased across the country and on June 4, 1956, the federal district court ruled that Alabama's racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional. However, an appeal kept the segregation intact, and the boycott continued. On November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the district court's ruling, leading to a city ordinance that allowed black bus passengers to sit virtually anywhere they wanted. The boycott officially ended December 20, 1956, after 381 days. The Montgomery Bus Boycott resounded far beyond the desegregation of public buses; it stimulated the national civil rights movement and launched King into the national spotlight as a leader.

http://atyourlibrary.org/sites/default/files/sites/files/default/images/voting-rights230.jpgThe U.S. Supreme Court is currently  reviewing a portion of the Voting Right Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the U.S.

The act cited the 15th Amendment that prohibits states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure... To deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

Specifically, Congress intended the act to outlaw the practice of requiring otherwise qualified voters to pass literacy tests in order to register to vote, a tactic often used in southern states that had prevented African-Americans from voting. The act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

President Bush signs the 2006 extension of the Voting Rights ActExtensive federal oversight of elections administration was the result of the act. It says states with a history of discriminatory voting practices could not implement any change affecting voting without first obtaining the approval of the U. S.  Department of Justice. These enforcement provisions applied to states and political subdivisions that had used a "device" to limit voting and in which less than 50 percent of the population was registered to vote in 1964. The act has been renewed and amended by Congress four times, the most recent being a 25-year extension signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006. (See photo above)

During the debate over the 2006 extension, some Republican members of Congress objected to renewing the “pre-clearance requirement” (the act's primary enforcement provision), arguing that it represented an overreach of federal power and places unwarranted bureaucratic demands on southern states that have long since abandoned the discriminatory practices the act was meant to eradicate.

Conservative legislators also opposed requiring states with large Spanish-speaking populations to provide bilingual ballots. Congress nonetheless voted to extend the act for 25 years with its original enforcement provisions left intact.

The states covered by the act include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia (except for the city of Sandy Springs), Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia (except for fourteen counties and four independent cities).

Conservative critics have said that despite lopsided votes in both Houses and the approval of President George W. Bush, lawmakers did not do enough to justify extending the Section 5 restrictions on nine states.

“Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered” and was fulfilling its obligation to ensure “that the right to vote — surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution — is not abridged on account of race. In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the people’s elected representatives,” one of the federal judge’s opinion said.

Conservative activists and Republican attorneys general from some of the covered states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — have launched challenges to the law.

“Things have changed in the South,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in an opinion that avoided the constitutional questions. “Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”

“The Voting Rights Act is a cornerstone of civil rights law, and the department will continue to vigorously defend it against constitutional challenges,” according to an Obama administration statement.

Visit your local library for these resources:

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Jeanne Theoharis, (Jan. 2013).
The national narrative on Parks is that of a reluctant champion of civil rights whose single action was refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Historian Theoharis offers a complex portrait of a forceful, determined woman who had long been active before the boycott she inspired and who had an even longer career in civil rights afterward. Drawing on a decade of research, the historian chronicles Parks’ personal journey to resistance, her work in the South challenging segregation and promoting voter registration, and her continued efforts in Detroit to address racial restrictions that had ostensibly been resolved by civil rights legislation. —Excerpt of review by Vanessa Bush first published November 15, 2012 (Booklist).

A History of Civil Rights in America (DVD)
Ronald C Meyer; Mark Reeder; Alphonse Keasley; Jane Simms Roche; David Arkenstone, (2011).
Beginning with the Founding Fathers, this well-structured, comprehensive eight-part program presents a chronological overview (1774 through 2010) of key figures and events that helped shape the civil rights movement. Host Tim Johnson reminds viewers that our nation was founded by wealthy, educated white men, and it took years before women, African Americans, and other minorities were allowed to vote. —Excerpt of review by Candace Smith first published October 5, 2011 (Booklist Online).

Parting The Waters: America In The King Years, 1954-63
Taylor Branch, (1988).

Pillar of fire : America in the King years, 1963-65
Taylor Branch, (1998).

At Canaan's edge : America in the King years, 1965-68
Taylor Branch, (2006).

Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938-1965
Keith M. Finley, (2008).

Of the People, by the People, for the People: A Documentary Record of Voting Rights and Electoral Reform
Thomas J. Baldino and Kyle L. Kreider (2010).
In these volumes, authors Baldino and Kreider present the evolution of U.S. election law in historical documents. Volume 1 is subtitled Foundations of the Modern Franchise, 1660–1959, and volume 2 is subtitled The Development of the Modern Franchise, 1960–2009. Documents are grouped into chapters that follow a chronological order, although the documents themselves are not necessarily presented chronologically. There are more than 100 documents, including Supreme Court decisions, constitutional amendments, state laws, colonial charters, municipal ordinances, and party rules.— Excerpt of review by Jerry Carbone first published July, 2010 (Booklist).

Voting Rights in America: Continuing the Quest for Full Participation
JCPES/Leadership Conference Education Fund, (1993).
...two civil rights groups published this meaty collection of addresses from a program sponsored by the Leadership Conference Education Fund in 1988, “200 Years of Expanding the Franchise: Celebrating the Bicentennial of the Constitution.” In addition to then-governor Bill Clinton, conference speakers included African American scholars and activists such as Mary Frances Berry, Charles V. Hamilton, and the late Al Raby; — Excerpt of review by Mary Carroll first published May 1, 1993 (Booklist).

Younger readers

Selma and the Voting Rights Act
David Aretha, (2007).
Grades 7-12.
In The Trial of the Scottsboro Boys (2007), Aretha covered racism and official cruelty in the 1930s Jim Crow South. In this title, also in the Civil Rights series, he moves to mid-1960s Alabama and the black struggle to exercise the constitutional right to vote. Even those who know the story of the famous protest marches will be interested in the details here, which include a look at infighting within the protest movement, discussion of the role of leaders on all sides, descriptions of flagrant prejudice and physical abuse, and an account of the final triumphant march.
—Excerpt of review by Hazel Rochman first published December 15, 2007 (Booklist).
 

 

 

Images:

1. Article illustration: President Barack Obama touches the Rosa Parks statue after the unveiling during a ceremony in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy). Helping with the unveiling, were, from left: Sheila Keys, niece of Rosa Parks; Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.; and Elaine Eason Keys.

President Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated. Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event.

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background.
 

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