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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    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

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Sunny Nash author of bigmama didn't shop at woolworth's

Sunny Nash is an author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations. 

Sunny Nash writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking. Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash's book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide for black studies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism.

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