Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Birthday in Denver

I traveled, saw movies, read books and went to galleries and museums when I was growing up because my mother wanted me to have more education than school could provide.

During the summer of 1964, I traveled to Denver to vacation with Aunt Clara and Uncle Fred in Denver. I spent many summers and other out-of-school time with those two. They had no children of their own, and seemed to really enjoy having me as a substitute.

Aunt Clara and Uncle Fred mailed me money wrapped in letters and cards, which I answered promptly. 
When I was young, they mailed me dolls, games and gadgets. Later, more expensive gifts came. They paid for my insurance, watches, jewelry, fancy winter caps, Cashmere sweaters, quilted poodle skirts, pink petticoats, books, a typewriter, tiny radio with earphone, a Baby Ben alarm clock for my bedside table and other "unnecessary stuff you don't need and we have no place to store," my mother said. I loved to listen to music on the transistor radio they sent. I placed the little gadget under my pillow and fell asleep listening to Randy Record Shop out of Nashville, Tennessee.

Aunt Clara liked stylish clothes and bought expensive dresses, and leather and woolen coats, which I relieved her of when I became a teenager, along with most of her makeup and beauty products.

The subject even came up that I could live with them during my high school years and get a better education in a Denver school than I could back home. It was all about civil rights, the subject of Martin Luther King's speeches, Brown v the Board of Education and Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

Aunt Clara and Uncle Fred kept my school in mind when they bought a nice little home with a second bedroom that could be mine in a quiet, racially mixed neighborhood. The next door neighbors on both sides were white and there were lots of children my age of all races riding their bicycles together up and down the tree-lined paved streets with green lawns, flower gardens and sidewalks. I could even have a bicycle, they said. No bicycle for me back home. There were green lawns and vegetable gardens where I lived, but no flower gardens, paved streets or sidewalks and nowhere to ride a bicycle on the bumpy red-dirt and gravel trails that connected the blocks of my Candy Hill neighborhood.

East High School - Denver, Colorado
East High School - Denver, Colorado
Aunt Clara and Uncle Fred said I could attend East High School, the oldest high school in Denver and one of America's top high schools in the 1960s. Uncle Fred drove me past the school one winter day in his new car when I had traveled to Denver during the Christmas holidays.

"East High School is a great school!" Aunt Clara told my mother on the telephone. "Fred will drive her to school every day."

The following summer, 1964, they arranged a tour of East High School with a friend attending the school that Fall. There were long discussions on the telephone about East High School that summer. I liked the elegant school building and imagined walking into the tiled hallway and up the grand staircases. But I knew my mother well enough not to get into a discussion with her about it. My mother's was always the last word over mine, my father's, Bigmama's and certainly Aunt Clara's.

East High School Hallway - Denver, Colorado
East High School, Main Hallway

"I know the school in Denver is better than schools here," my mother said. "I know you and Fred have more money to spend on her than we do." 

Uncle Fred had an office. He took me to the research laboratory where he worked. Aunt Clara was an assistant administrator at a large Catholic hospital. Not many black people in our town had jobs to equal those in the 1950s and '60s. Wages in most southern towns were very low and promotion was still next to impossible.

"I appreciate everything you do for her, Clara," my mother said. "I know you mean well offering to send her to high school out there."

"If it's about money, we'll buy all of her school clothes and pay for anything else she needs," Aunt Clara said.

"It's not about money, Clara."

"Then why won't you let us give her this white education?" Aunt Clara asked.

"Because I'm her mother."

To my mother it wouldn't have mattered whether I went to a great school, a white school or any other school. It had nothing to do with integrated schools or liberal Colorado politics. 

My mother wanted to give me an education herself, not that she doubted Aunt Clara's sincerity about school. My mother had a plan and her plan would work better with her in control. She wanted me to go to college and she felt that the road to a college education would be best paved by her, regardless of where I graduated high school. And the discussion was closed forever, although I resented not having input into the decision.

College was my mother's insurance for my success.

For my birthday that summer, Uncle Fred went out and bought a croquet lawn set and read all the rules to learn how to play, so he could teach me and my friends how to play. Uncle Fred sacrificed his impeccably landscaped rear garden with flowerbeds along the fence that separated their backyard from the neighbor's very large Great Dane. After carefully placing the wire wickets and hardwood stakes into the soil, Uncle Fred tried out a wooden mallet for himself to strike an Easter-egg-colored wooden ball. He did not let me try the game or teach me the rules, saying it wouldn't be fair to the others if I knew how to play the game already.

Croquet, a one-thousand-year-old outdoor game invented around 1066 for the English Royal Court, took its name from the French word, meaning conqueror. 

croquet lawn set
Croquet Set - 4 Player
A game that had stirred the imaginations of a great number of Americans by the 1960s, croquet had also seemed to have ignited Uncle Fred's attention, too. Why he thought genteel competition would be appropriate for me and my little heathen friends, I will never know, but I am sure it had something to do with my mother. 

When I returned home on the train at the end of the summer, the croquet set was shipped along with all my other birthday and vacation gifts. I found out later that the croquet set was quite expensive and my mother had shared in that expense. "You can teach your friends here to play the game," my mother said, unwrapping Uncle Fred's sturdy package.
Birthday Cake Book
Birthday Cake Book 

On my birthday, in addition to spending a lot of money on games, Aunt Clara purchased my birthday cake and made all the snacks. Then Aunt Clara brought her phonograph from the living room out into the backyard to play the latest music she had bought, to which we were to teach her the latest new dance steps. On three card tables, Uncle Fred set up his chess set to try to teach us to play, a set of dominoes, set of checkers and other board games I had never seen. 

It was a fine birthday with my friends nibbling on healthy snacks and other goodies at my mother's insistence, "Don't come

Aunt Clara danced with my friends and Uncle Fred played Chinese checkers, regular checkers, dominoes and other table games with them. But mostly comparing notes about politics, race relations and civil rights that we had all been hearing so much about on television lately. Everyone had an opinion. I thought the new civil rights law meant more to me than it did to my Denver friends until we got into some pretty heated discussions. The school they attended, East High School, where Aunt Clara tried to convince my mother I should go, was integrated. They could sit at the lunch counter at Woolworth's. They could watch movies from any seat in the theater. What is their complaint, I wanted to know. Certainly Martin Luther King wasn't talking about them in his speeches. 

Estes Park Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park Rocky Mountain National Park
At home, I couldn't do the things I could in Denver. When Aunt Clara took me shopping or to lunch, we tried on clothes and sat where we wanted in the restaurant. That could not happen a back home. Black people were not allowed to try on clothes before buying them, could not return the clothes if they did not fit and could not sit down and eat in most restaurants, except in a segregated section. 

Aunt Clara and I rode at the front of the bus not the back like Rosa Parks had been forced to ride before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When Aunt Clara took me to Red Rock, Cherry Creek, Colorado Springs, Estes Park or other places in the mountains to see the sites, clerks behind the souvenir counters were polite when they took our money for postcards, trinkets and gifts. That was all I expected from civil rights, except that I may have to go to a different school one day.

"What's it like to go to a white school?" I wanted to know. "Do you have any black teachers? Do you have any white friends?" 

"A few," they said.

As I listened, I realized that these people experienced racism of a different kind, "the sneaky kind," as my mother would say. They had been made to stand in lines waiting for services because of their race. They were taunted at school and treated badly by some white teachers and students. This whole subject of race and civil rights in Colorado and the rest of the nation was a lot more complicated that I had thought. Maybe living in Denver and going to East High School wouldn't be that great after all.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
~Thank You~

Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

If Rosa Parks Had a Cellphone and Social Media...

Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott

What impact do you think social media would have had on Jim Crow laws?

Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, all Rosa Parks had to fight Jim Crow laws was her ability to keep her seat. If she had had a cellphone and social media, what would the impact have been? Would history be different? Who knows, but the impact of social media and cellphones is a concept worth intellectual consideration. Don't you think?

Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycott Booking Photo
Rosa Parks - Booking Photo
(Photo: Library of Congress)

9-year-old Linda Brown, 
for Whom the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court 
Case was named

Children are taught in school that Rosa Parks was a peaceful elderly worker who decided one day not to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus after work, blaming her tired feet for this decision. While this is essentially what happened on December 1, 1955, it is not the whole truth. Rosa Parks may have had tired feet, but the Montgomery Bus Boycott was no accident of history. Imagine this day in history on YouTube! 

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

African American Women with cellphones at the Heart of the Civil Rights Movement

Educated, professional, 42-year-old, Rosa Parks knew exactly what she was doing the day she boarded the city bus. If there had been such a thing as Twitter back then, you just know she would have been tweeting or uploading video as she resisted arrest. Or maybe not. In those days, people were more reserved than today.

This was one year after Brown v the Board of Education. Had social media been available to Linda Brown, she probably would have used them to attract her target audiences. After all, most nine-year-old girls today have cellphones--wouldn't be caught away from home without them. However, in the case of Brown, additional audience attention is difficult to imagine with the long lines that formed around the Supreme Court the day the case was decided..

Claudette Colvin's largely untold story would have lit up social media with #!

Claudette Colvin:
Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin's story would have gone global. 

In fact, fifteen-year-old high school student, Claudette Colvin, was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery Bus on March 22, 1955, almost a year before Rosa Parks. 

Claudette Colvin found herself isolated in her community and avoided by her classmates at school for standing up for her civil rights action on the bus, which would not have been the case had she been equipped with a cellphone and an Instagram account. She would have been able to record the entire incident and distribute it around the world in seconds. The pictures of the physical abuse she sustained at the hand of Montgomery police officers when she was thrown off the bus and arrested for ignoring the segregation signs and defending her civil rights would have stunned the world. 

The big question remains: How would Claudette Colvin's social media story have affected the legal status of African Americans during the Jim Crow era? Go to: and take a look.


If you think persons at this level of activism would NOT have used instant communications, social media networking and every other technological tool available, think again! At the time, Rosa Parks was considered one of the most radical activists in Alabama. Of course, she would have used her cellphone camera or tablet to communicate and report violence by police and others.

Unlike Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks was part of a larger movement and helped plan the the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Montgomery Bus Boycott - Boycotters Waiting for Rides
(Photo: Library of Congress)
Not that the treatment and civil rights contribution of Claudette Colvin should have gone unnoticed and seemingly unappreciated, at the time of Colvin's action, the NAACP was in the process of organizing a larger plan  that incorporated new protest principles, involved seasoned civil rights activists and pointed to a more predictable conclusion.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was not about one person, the boycott was intended to initiate a concerted movement against Jim Crow laws in the Southern United States and Jim Crow traditions nationwide.

Working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Rosa Parks and other activists attended regular meetings before and after the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, and were instrumental in organizing the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), a multiracial group that managed the Montgomery Bus Boycott, arranged alternative transportation, made bail for arrested boycott participants, paid fines, raised money and performed other administrative duties.

During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, television was an infant medium with no news being broadcast regularly. In fact, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began in 1954, few American homes had televisions, due to the lack of regular broadcasts of any kind. And most small town had no access to television signals. Television was a new and experimental medium and the news broadcast was still being invented. At the time, there were no 24-hour news, entertainment and sports channels like there are today. Even into the the late 1950s, news was mostly limited to 15-minute segments in early evening when news broadcasts were left to the discretion of the local channels and the channels located in the nation's southern states usually excluded reports on the budding Civil Rights Movement because these stories angered local residents.

Imagine Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott more than 60 years with the social media and instant messaging of today with cellphone video and photography. 

Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycott Associate, Jo Ann Robinson Booking Photo
Jo Ann Robinson
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Booking Photo
Suppose Rosa Parks had had social media at her disposal when she refused to move from her seat on the bus and was arrested. How would Parks' and her activist associate, Jo Ann Robinson, have used FaceBook or Twitter to organize the one-day Montgomery Bus Boycott that eventually turned into a protest that lasted more than a year?

Activist, Jo Ann Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council in Montgomery, Alabama, made a priority of her term the city’s segregated bus system, which became the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When Rosa Parks was arrested, Robinson went to the mayor and threatened a bus boycott if conditions did not change. The mayor gave Robinson no indications that the bus system would change. This led to a modest movement against local public transportation policy in Montgomery. 

How many lynchings could have been stopped by cellphones and social media had they been available back then? Race relations in America is a discussion that does not seem to be leaving the American conversation any time soon. Join the conversation.

Lynching Laura Nelson 1911
Laura Nelson
Lynched for Defending her Son 
Oklahoma 1911
Jo Ann Robinson, Rosa Parks and others passed out 50,000 fliers around Montgomery. Imagine if they had had social media to instantly broadcast their messages worldwide and attach high-quality photographs and videos with audio. As the Civil Rights Movement developed into the 1960s, the world could have instantly seen with social media what it took hours for television stations back then to process and distribute. 

With social media and instant messaging the world and contemporary school children would have realized immediately that Rosa Parks had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement through her NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) membership since joining the organization in 1943, twelve years before she ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott is the event for which Rosa Parks is best known. 

Even without social media, the local protest grew into a national campaign to dismantle Jim Crow laws and all that those laws represented across the nation. When there was no evidence of changes in bus policy, NAACP officials, Dr. Martin Luther King and others formed the multiracial organization, Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), to help raise money and administer the Montgomery Bus Boycott. the boycott, which lasted more than a year and energized the Civil Rights Movement, created a model for nonviolent protest that spread across the nation.

However, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire describes another Rosa Parks. Long before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, black women on Montgomery city buses endured degradation on their way to cook and clean for their white bosses. This book reveals how by 1955, Rosa Parks, one of the most radical activists in Alabama, had had enough. "There had to be a stopping place," she said, "and this seemed to be the place for me to stop being pushed around."

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Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
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Danielle McGuire, Rosa Parks Biographer
Danielle McGuire
According to Danielle McGuire's book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Rosa Parks contributed to a major change in the way black women are treated in America, including more than gaining them the right to sit where they wanted on a city bus or use a restroom that white women also used. Denied basic civil rights--education, voting, fair employment, respectful treatment and equal protection under the law--Rosa Parks helped to gain the most important right any women of any color could desire, protection of her personal safety and prosecution of males who sexually assaulted them, males who would not have been punished before the Civil Rights Movement.

The Amazon review of McGuire's book says, "In this groundbreaking and important book, Danielle McGuire writes about the rape in 1944 of a twenty-four-year-old mother and sharecropper, Recy Taylor, who strolled toward home after an evening of singing and praying at the Rock Hill Holiness Church in Abbeville, Alabama. Seven white men, armed with knives and shotguns, ordered the young woman into their green Chevrolet, raped her, and left her for dead. The president of the local NAACP branch office sent his best investigator and organizer to Abbeville. Her name was Rosa Parks. In taking on this case, Parks launched a movement that ultimately changed the world.

"The author gives us the never-before-told history of how the civil rights movement began; how it was in part started in protest against the ritualistic rape of black women by white men who used economic intimidation, sexual violence, and terror to derail the freedom movement; and how those forces persisted unpunished throughout the Jim Crow era when white men assaulted black women to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy. Black women's protests against sexual assault and interracial rape fueled civil rights campaigns throughout the (Jim Crow) South that began during World War II and went through to the Black Power movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the baptism, not the birth, of that struggle.

"The protest, intended to last twenty-four hours, became a yearlong struggle for dignity and justice. It broke the back of the Montgomery city bus lines and bankrupted the company. We see how and why Rosa Parks, instead of becoming a leader of the movement she helped to start, was turned into a symbol of virtuous black womanhood, sainted and celebrated for her quiet dignity, prim demeanor, and middle-class propriety—her radicalism all but erased. And we see as well how thousands of black women whose courage and fortitude helped to transform America were reduced to the footnotes of history. A controversial, moving, and courageous book; narrative history at its best."

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Black Womanhood: Rosa Parks, Jim Crow and Lynching

Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells created a century-long movement (1850s-1950s) against Jim Crow rape and lynching of black women and girls.

Photo: Rosa Parks
Photo: Rosa Parks (right) & Attorney, Charles Langford
February 22, 1956 Photo: Academy of Achievement

Martin Luther King knew the value of female supporters to the efforts of civil rights. 

Martin Luther King worked closely with Rosa Parks and other black female activists and encouraged other factions of the Civil Rights Movement to do the same.

However, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, women's roles in the Civil Rights Movement were not so visible as they had been. Because of the sexual nature of black women's history in the United States, roles of black women in civil rights after King's death began to fade into a story that few know and, finally, to disappear into the sexist Black Power Movement that virtually cut the black female point of view from the conversation. 

The heart of civil rights was rape and lynching of black women and girls, often committed by the same mob. 

Some experts say that the great northern migration was caused, in part, by thousands of reported and unreported cases of rape and lynching of black women and girls in the south with husbands and fathers at home ashamed of their helplessness to protect their females. Between 1882 and 1968 more than 150 black women and girls were lynched in the United States, some for minor crimes; others for trying to protect their children. Woven into the civil rights Rosa Parks won were the protection of black woman from verbal, physical and sexual advances and assaults by men hiding under white sheets and behind Jim Crow laws, a legal system that protected white sex offenders into the mid-1960s, a system against which black women had no insurance. 

Photo: Rosa Parks

Photo: Rosa Parks & E.B. Nixon

Learning about the gang rape of Alabama wife and mother, Recy Taylor, by seven white men on her way home from church in 1944 led the Montgomery NAACP president, E.B. Nixon, to ask its best investigator to look into the matter. That investigator was 31-year-old Rosa Parks (1913-2005), an anti-rape crusader specializing in sexual assaults against black women in Jim Crow Alabama. By taking the Recy Taylor case, Parks launched a movement aimed directly at sexual assault against African American women. 

There is no evidence that Rosa Parks personally experienced sexual assault at the hands of a white or black man. However, she was a beautiful black woman in a racist environment where the rape of white women was considered legitimate rape and the rape of black women was not. It is probable that Parks was assaulted--if not sexually--verbally and shown casual disrespect at some time in her life under Jim Crow laws in Alabama.

Rosa Parks was unable to win the Recy Taylor case. Recy Taylor and other women were afraid to accuse white men of rape because they knew juries would not consider their sexual violation a legitimate rape. Also black women were ashamed of having their predicament publicized, they fearing ridicule in their own communities and expecting physical harm to their families. After the rape, Recy went public to the sheriff. Fearing for the lives of Taylor's husband and three-year-old daughter, her father did what he could to protect them, perching in a tree outside Recy's home with a shotgun, the only insurance against racist violence he could provide his daughter. Still, Recy Taylor's home was bombed.

Eleven years after the Recy Taylor case, Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King and supervised by an organization, Montgomery Improvement Association, established by King to administer the boycott. After more than a year, the Montgomery Bus Boycott dismantled Jim Crow laws, the legal system that permitted racial discrimination in housing, education, services, legal representation, voting, employment, public transportation, accommodations, and the unchecked sexual abuse of American black women and girls and, to a large extent, non-white women of disregarded ethnic groups.

For winning this victory, Rosa Parks became the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power

Danielle McGuire

According to Danielle McGuire's book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black PowerRosa Parks contributed to a major change in the way black women are treated in America, including more than gaining them the right to sit where they wanted on a city bus or use a restroom that white women also used. Denied basic civil rights--education, voting, fair employment, respectful treatment and equal protection under the law--Rosa Parks helped to gain the most important right any women of any color could desire, insurance of her personal safety and prosecution of males who sexually assaulted them, males who would not have been punished before the Civil Rights Movement.

Photo: Laura Nelson, Lynching Victim

Photo: Laura Nelson, 1911 Lynching

In 1911, Laura Nelson tried to protect her son from a posse that she was certain had come to lynch him. In many similar instances, the would-be posses were also rapists. During the skirmish that took place outside her home, Laura Nelson shot the sheriff. The posse took Laura Nelson and her son from their home and placed them under arrest. A crazed mob formed outside the jailhouse where Nelson and her son were being held in a cell on multiple charges. 

Forty men broke into the jailhouse and took the mother and her son from their cell. Outside, Laura was raped. She and her son were then lynched. Try to imagine yourself in the place of Laura Nelson or the place of her son, as their neighbors must have. The terror those two people must have felt during the hours that led up to their deaths is suffocating--seeing your mother raped and lynched or watching your mother's eyes seeing you raped and lynched.

Then try to imagine their neighbors thinking twice about protesting any actions of the powers around them. This fear went to the heart of the civil rights that Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King would address some forty-four years later and try to bring an end to lynching and discrimination in America. The 1911 Laura Nelson lynching occurred two years before Rosa Parks was born. The lynching served as a continual reminder to Rosa Parks and every other black woman and girl in the nation of the possibility that this same thing could happen to them and may have contributed to her taking the 1944 Recy Taylor case.

African Americans--male and female--who lived in the southern U.S. were helpless against Jim Crow laws and they had no insurance against racist violence

Photo: Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith Indiana
Photo: Lynching of Thomas Shipp 
& Abram Smith in Indiana
Lynchings were popular outdoor events, drawing large crowds of men, women and children. Photographers commemorated lynching events on post cards for sale to audiences that sometimes bought multiple copies to mail to family in other places.

When 17-year-old farmhand, Jesse Washington, reported to be mentally retarded, was accused of raping a white woman and was lynched in the frontier town of Waco, Texas, in 1916, the photograph of Washington's body was published on a postcard. Lynching was common in the African American West. On the back of the Jesse Washington postcard was written: “This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe."

The dreadful prospect of rape, followed by a rope became a horrifying fact of a black woman's reality during the era of Jim Crow laws. Language in the laws did not literally sanction rape, but some southern attitudes toward black women at the time caused legal charges they brought against sexual predators to be laughed out of court and rretribution against the complaining black women, her family and community was certain. 
To further the crippling impact of rape and lynching, some employers, businesses and financial institutions used sexual assault as an economic weapon to enforce desired behavior, a practice rooted in slavery. In contrast, a glance, a rumor or a false complaint involving a white woman and a black man--her word over his--triggered his lynching without a trial. And if it got to trial, the outcome was tragic, as illustrated in my article, In the Tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, about the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) delivered her Ain't I A Woman? speech, (audio excerpt left) at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio, in December 1851. Truth made the speech eight years before her monumental meeting with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House to discuss the issue of enlisting black troops into the Union Army against the Confederacy, which Lincoln eventually accomplished. Two years later, Union victory over the Confederacy ended the Civil War and freed U.S. slaves under the order of the president, who was assassinated days after the war's end. Truth's speech spoke to the heart of civil rights, the protection of black womanhood in the same voices Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King would use more than one hundred years later..

Sojourner Truth was as significant in anti-slavery issues to the 1850-60s generation as Rosa Parks was to anti-Jim Crow laws one hundred years later in the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950-60s. 

According to the biography by Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol, Truth invented a public image for herself, using new technology of her day--photography and publishing--and became a celebrity. Truth's 1850 autobiographyThe Narrative of Sojourner Truth (free Kindle Edition), earned royalties and gained her a loyal following to finance public appearances that promoted her views on race, lynching, women's issues and black womanhood.

Anti-lynching Crusaders  NAACP Button 1900
Anti-lynching Crusaders 
NAACP Button 1900

In the 1890s, journalist, Ida B. Wells (1852-1932), protested lynching and rape of black women, which was still at the heart of civil rights. 

Later as an Anti-lynching Crusader, within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Wells made a lot of noise against lynching, until the Legislature took on the problem in 1918 in a bill intended to punish state, county and local officials that did not stop lynching in their locales and failed to create an atmosphere to end the practice altogether. Although the House of Representatives passed anti-lynching laws three times, none of the efforts passed in the U. S. Senate. Finally on Monday, June 13, 2005, four months before Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005, the Senate apologized for not passing anti-lynching laws over the course of its history.

In Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida (Google Affiliate Ad), 1892-1900Ida B. Wells-Barnett exposed lynching as a method to control the economic growth of African Americans and other ethnic groups, as well as to support the erroneous notion of white supremacy. Wells demonstrated that black women became easy targets for predators because black men were unable to defend them without stiff consequences. Racially motivated sexual assaults have been told and retold in many books and oral accounts throughout American history, starting during slavery. At the end of these frightening stories, posses seldom rode out looking for the rapists of black women and girls.

The last recorded lynching of black woman in the United States was in 1957, the year following the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. When I was a little girl, I never knew a man or woman who was lynched. There were stories, though, in my own neighborhood of powerful men going freely into certain homes and raping females within the household with the male head of the household sitting on the porch, helpless to protect his wife or daughters. This was the ultimate in violation of a family's civil rights, deliberate intimidation of a community and the very heart of the civil rights struggle taken on by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.. 

In addition, some black men were also abusive to the females in their homes. I heard about those situations, too. If home was not safe, where could a black woman or girl feel safe? Even girls like me, who had protective families who would die for us, there was still a lot of apprehension when going out to public places and doing what seemed so normal to others. While white women also were intimidated and abused at home and work, the story of the black woman in America shows that society as a whole viewed her womanhood as worthless, rendering her unworthy of consideration or civil rights.
Rosa Parks walked in the clearly laid path of Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells-Barnett who meticulously created the foundation for fighting violence against people of color and women of all races.

However, black women and other non-white females were particularly vulnerable in ways white women were not. Jim Crow laws recognized white women as human beings and, therefore, raping one of them was considered a crime. By dehumanizing the black woman, sex offenders treated them as less than human, allowing the offender to sleep at night after such an act without guilt or fear of penalty. 

Did sex offenders think of their victims as animals? Would that have made the act less perverse?

This lowered value of black womanhood by society also had an impact on the opinion black men held of her, not to mention the effect on her own self esteem. Southern businesses responded by determining whether or not to serve or to allow or disallow use of its public restrooms. Depending on lightness or darkness of their complexions, individual members of the same family could be allowed or denied civil rights, meaning entrance at the doors of some restaurants and other businesses with public services and retail goods for sale. In fact, non-white customers were not allowed to try on a dress, suit or outfit before making a purchase in a department store. And if the clothing did not fit, it could not be returned for a refund. In fact, Rosa Parks worked in a department store altering garments for white customers whose purchases did not fit properly when, she herself, being a black woman, could not try on a garment before buying it or returning the garment if it did not fit.

Personnel representing businesses allowed or refused services, such as restaurant tables, ho
tel rooms, restrooms, fitting rooms, waiting rooms, hospital rooms and seats on buses, trains and airplanes. The black prospective patron's expensive looking outfit or suit or how much money they seemed to have did not matter. If the business did not want to serve a non-white customer, they could refuse. Often, business owners, under the influence of their paying customers, would not sacrifice their regular patronage for an occasional chance to appear to be moral.

White Women's Ladies Room Sign
Ladies Room Sign
Ladies Room Sign
When I think of my grandmother, born in 1890, and my mother, born in 1928, I realize they had to endure the indignity of toilet denial, a basic civil right, when they went to a pseudo public facility. Routinely, I was told to use the bathroom before we took a road trip. "There may be no place to stop," Bigmama told me. "And if there is, it won't be worth using. Go before we leave home! If you don't have to go now, squeeze out what you can, so you won't have to go later in some two-hole shack on the side of the road." 

I don't just feel sad for Bigmama and my mother. I feel overwhelmed with sadness for them and all the others like them--my teachers, the church ladies, neighbors. There is no public facility and no civil right more sensitive for a woman than a restroom. Nowhere in society are the requirements for privacy, safety and sanitation higher than the "Ladies' Room," the toilet facility. Denial of the civil right to a decent toilet is to deny her womanhood. 

Further, I feel sad for those women who used the best facilities. Being accustomed to the best of everything and being treated as such by society led them to mistakenly believe they were better than they are. And when things did change after Rosa Parks sat on the bus and refused to move, all those women who thought they were better had to endure the change and accept that their behinds were no better than anyone else's. After centuries of perching on gilded pedestals, how would those pampered rear ends endure sharing the seat with me?