Panelists discuss Rosa Parks and how she effected change as the NBC Learn Town Hall series "Finishing the Dream" continues in Detroit, Michigan.
How Did Rosa Parks Impact The Civil Rights Movement?
CARMEN HARLAN, Moderator:
A spontaneous and simple refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus pushed Rosa Parks to the forefront of a growing Civil Rights Movement in 1955. She said when she made the decision she knew had the strength of her ancestors behind her.
CARMEN HARLAN [IN CLIP]: Rosa and Raymond Parks married in 1932. Raymond was an active member of the NAACP. His wife joined the battle for civil rights. The couple lived in Montgomery, Alabama. Population one hundred twenty thousand, fifty thousand were black.
Segregation was the law of the day, separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, and buses with seats for blacks and other seats for whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was heading home; contrary to common belief, Mrs. Parks said she was not physically tired that day.
PARKS [IN CLIP]: I was-- felt that this was the opportunity for me to let them know that I did not want to be treated in the manner in which I was treated.
HARLAN [IN CLIP]: As the bus filled up, the driver asked Mrs. Parks to give up her seat to a white man, that didn’t make sense to Mrs. Parks.
PARKS [IN CLIP]: First of all, I didn’t see how I should have to stand up after getting on the bus because I have paid the fare just like the other person did.
HARLAN [IN CLIP]: The police were called. Mrs. Parks was arrested and would be fined ten dollars plus four dollars for court cost. This seemingly routine case quickly became a turning point.
ANDREW YOUNG [IN CLIP]: When she was thrown in jail, then everybody said that-- if Rosa Parks can’t be treated right on the bus, nobody can be treated right on the bus.
HARLAN [IN CLIP]: Black churches and activists rallied around Mrs. Parks over the weekend. The next Monday the bus boycott was under way, as blacks carpooled, Mrs. Parks appeal worked its way up to the United States Supreme Court.
One year and fifteen days after Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat, the Supreme Court orders were handed down. Desegregated busing came to an end in Montgomery. The entire county would never be the same.
HARLAN: Well, here’s a woman quiet and reserved, strong in her beliefs, yet she had the courage to stand up against a law she knew was wrong, a simple act that changed the course of history in our country.
My question to the young people here today. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always easy. What are some of the things that you are facing today? We’ve got--
AMANDA SOWDERS, Student: Hi.
HARLAN: --someone who wants to share that. If you could tell me your name and--
AMANDA: I’m Amanda Sowders and I’m from University of Detroit Mercy.
AMANDA: I feel that we need to work together and not focus so much on differences between groups of people and things that we have in common to make things better.
HARLAN: Okay. That’s-- I think that’s fair. Let-- let’s turn this over to our panel and most of you remember the story of Rosa Parks I’m sure a lot more than some of the young people here today. And reliving it again, brought back what kind of feelings, thoughts.
HASSAN JABER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACCESS: I think this-- we need to understand that the struggle for Civil Rights is-- is more than a struggle for Civil Rights. It’s a struggle for our democracy. It’s a struggle for social justice. Rosa has embodied all the struggles when we have now the poverty rate among African-Americans three times greater than white, we’re not done. The struggle needs-- this is also about democracy. This is about our choice of what society. We need to be--
CARMEN HARLAN: It’s also about being willing to stand up for change. And that takes a lot of courage. It does--
CAROL GOSS, PRESIDENT & CEO THE SKILLMAN FOUNDATION: But it does take courage and leadership and young people across this city are-- are doing that. They are standing up for things going on in their neighborhoods that-- that aren’t right, that they want to change. And so, young people have to find their passion. In one neighborhood in northeast in Osborn, young people are marching against violence in their community, trying to change violence. And I agree with the young lady that it could be so much more powerful if young people could come together around a common agenda.
HARLAN: But you’re hearing it and you heard it tonight. They want to get past the differences. They want to coexist, Shirley.
SHIRLEY STANCATO, PRESIDENT & CEO NEW DETROIT, INC.: I think, you know, when I hear that I-- I-- I-- I have to say that differences are okay because when you say different, it’s different from what. I mean when you get to know each other you have to know the whole person. So, when people see you, they see the whole person. And part of being able to do anything is to develop relationships first.
So you get to know a person, know about their background, their experiences, and know they’re passionate about. That-- then, you can sort of join together and then move forward. One person can make a difference but it’s okay to focus on the differences. Because in those differences, you’ll find something, believe it or not, that really, really, really you have in common and I always tell young people that again one person can make a difference.
You can do something, and you will find that if you sometimes take that one step you will find others who will follow. So, think about doing that. Think about again focusing on the differences because-- because it’s-- that’s okay and that’s how you really know get to know a person.
HARLAN: How can we as the adults in the situation create that kind of atmosphere so that they can finish this dream?
DAN KRICHBAUM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS: What I think one thing is-- is that it takes a lot of different types of contributions to actually accomplish something. I mean Mrs. Parks contribution was a real act of courage but the boycott itself was well organized, took a lot of different kinds of people working on that and-- and then living that out, not just for, you know, twenty-four hours but for over and over every day for a long period of time until they won something. So, there’s a lot of different roles to be played.
STANCATO: And I think patience is important. If it-- again if you read history, you know, that Rosa Parks was not the first person who didn’t get up. There were others who did it before her. The timing just was right when she did it.
The role that she had in NAACP was important and so people had to do it again and again and again, and sometimes we get tired. But it’s important to know that you are one step and somebody else will make another step and perhaps others will make another step to make the change. But that one step that you make whether it’s first or whether you’re the thirtieth person does make a difference and you are involved in-- in making change. And I just want young people to know that it’s important that you do it and you can do it and those of us who’re up here are-- are excited to move over to let you sit next to us so we can learn from you really and you can learn from us.
HARLAN: Kary, I see what’s going through your mind.
KARY MOSS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU MICHIGAN: Oh, I just wanted to just remind everybody that we had this remarkable moment in November of 2008 when we elected this country’s first black President. And I think so much of that was the result of young people’s act-- activity.
And what I wanted to, I guess, emphasize it’s all about leadership opportunities. It’s all about learning how to be a leader. And if you put yourself in the space where you take risks and you try to do things that make a difference you find a mentor, you look for the best people you can hit yourself to, and you learn about what is it take to make change, that’s really where those differences don’t matter so much because it’s about building the bridges that come from being a leader.
HARLAN: All right Kary.
At a robust 87 years of age, Dolores Huerta speaks with the rapidity, clarity and conviction of her younger self. During the civil rights era, Huerta co-founded what is now the United Farm Workers union, resolutely dedicating her life to securing the rights of immigrant farmworkers and to combatting the fierce racism underlying their mistreatment. In today’s political climate, she sees the fundamental freedoms of her fellow Americans freshly imperiled, and has come forward to share her story with a new generation of activists seeking to effect change.
Civil Rights Movement, Detroit, Michigan, Henry Ford Museum, WDIV, Carmen Harlan, Carol Goss, Kary Moss, Robert Smith, Shirley Stancato, Hassan Jaber, Dr. Daniel Krichbaum, Rosa Parks, NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Bus, Boycott, March, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.