Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rosa Parks, Jim Crow Laws & Young Black Hollywood

Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the media helped change Jim Crow laws and opened film roles for today's young black Hollywood actors.

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)  Going to Court after Arrest The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) 
Going to Court after Arrest
The Montgomery Bus Boycott  
Before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, U.S. race relations retained subservient roles for black Americans and spilled the practice into all aspects of Jim Crow life, ranging from the Jim Crow Hollywood film industry to the back seats on Jim Crow buses.

After Rosa Parks, however, Jim Crow Hollywood and Jim Crow America were forced to change their portrayal and treatment of African Americans in film and in real life. 

Brandon T. Jackson
Brandon T. Jackson
Looking at the history of Jim Crow Hollywood, one sees that Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Woolworth Sit-ins, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier and many paved the path for today's young black Hollywood stars--Zoe Kravitz; Evan Ross, son of entertainer, Diana Ross; Keke Palmer; or Brandon T. Jackson--all among today's hottest young black Hollywood stars, according to Next MovieBecause of civil rights activists, events, protests, lynching and other related violence of the Jim Crow past, America has a young black Hollywood community that may look physically similar to the young black Hollywood community of past decades.

The difference between the present black Hollywood and the black Hollywood  of the past lies in the roles today's young black Hollywood actors are allowed to play on screen, behind the cameras and in executive positions. Some young black stars are not only starring in major motion pictures, but they are also participating in the creation, financing, distribution and promotion of their projects.

Zoe Kravitz
Zoe Kravitz
Zoe Kravitz, who emerges from a Hollywood heritage, is third generation black Hollywood. Her father is singer-songwriter-actor Lenny Kravitz; her mother is actor, Liza Bonet; her grandmother was actor Roxie Roker; and her cousin is NBC's Al Roker. Although Zoe Kravitz is  mixed racial heritage and identifies herself also as a secular Jew, in the Jim Crow Hollywood film industry of the past, she would have been cast in the same manner as mixed-race actor, Lena Horne, and other black actors of the time.

Also on the 20-something-year-old and younger Next Movie Hollywood's 9 Hottest Young Black Stars list are: Gabourey Sidibe; Donald Glover; Jaden Smith, son of actors, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith; Tessa Thompson, Katerina Graham and Kali Hawk with a lot of film real estate between their careers and Jim Crow Hollywood history preceding them.

Before many of the young black Hollywood stars came onto the scene or were even born, the late Whitney Houston made the crossover to major motion pictures in The Bodyguard 20 years ago, co-starring with Kevin Costner, also available on Blue-Ray. Not the first African American actor to do so, Houston brought black-white romance in film to the mainstream in a way that had not captured the public since Sidney Poitier starred in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner  45 years ago.

With her powerhouse, gospel-inspired voice and acting skill, Whitney Houston gave the world a new way to partake of entertainment, giving her the juice to bridge race relations in America and throughout the world with her recorded music, which is now her legacy, Whitney Houston MP3 Download Page.

Rosa Parks played an integral role in the history of black Hollywood, in that she helped to change the way African Americans were seen in the United States and the way blacks were eventually cast in Hollywood films. In fact, The Rosa Parks Story by Angela Bassett, co-producer and star, invites the viewer to examine the relationship between Rosa Parks and America under Jim Crow laws. This film and others like it show how ground was broken for young black Hollywood actors.

Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon
by Goudsouzian, Aram [Hardcover]
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Unfair casting of actors with dark skin did not change until after the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and even then roles were reserved for actors who fit a certain mold, such as Bahamian American actor, Sidney Poitier, because he didn't sound black. Poitier was the first black male actor to win an Oscar, Lilies of the Field (1963), the same year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The nation nor Hollywood would ever be the same. Americans were devastated for the most part but there were some who rejoiced at the death of the president they held responsible for so much change.

"The movie in which Poitier made the biggest splash was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, also starring Spencer Tracy and  Katharine Hepburn, about the interracial marriage of their fictional daughter, played by Katharine Houghton. This was a first in American cinema, a black man playing the love interest of a white woman.

There was much more to Stanley Kramer's  film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, than black-and-white romance. This happened to be Spencer Tracey's last performance before his death and Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for her performance. What the film did at the time of its release and continues to do over the years is provide teachable moments in the study of racism and prejudice. The white parents do not think of themselves as racists, but the father is reluctant about the marriage of his daughter to a black man and the black parents have reservations about their son marrying a white woman.

Mildred and Richard Loving, Loving v. Virginia
Mildred and Richard Loving Press Conference
After U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

Interracial Marriage Legal in Loving v. Virginia

The year Guess Who's Coming to Dinner debuted on January 1, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court in a June 12, 1967, vote of 9-0 ,declared that all legal restrictions on marriage, based on race, to be unconstitutional in the United States of America. The Lovings won their case for the nation. Read the Time/CNN article by Christopher Shay at: Time Magazine.

Before Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement helped to change Hollywood, roles for black actors were negative.

Lincoln Theodore Monroe  Andrew Perry (1902–1985) aka Stepin Fetchit Academy Motion Picture Arts & Sciences   
Lincoln Theodore Monroe  Andrew
Perry (1902–1985) aka Stepin Fetchit
Academy Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
In pre-civil rights America, on stage and screen, African Americans had specific places in plots--insignificant and menial places--maids, nannies, butlers or goofy looking dancing drunken fools who moved awkwardly and spoke with an impediment--reflecting roles black persons were expected to play in American life. This was the condition that slavery caused to descend upon Americans with dark skin or descendants of dark-skinned people, whether they were African Americans or other people of color.

Amazon's Publishers Weekly reviews Mel Watkins' Stepin Fetchit: The Life & Times of Lincoln Perry (Kindle Edition) Stepin Fetchit: The Life & Times of Lincoln Perry (softcover) "...After breaking into films and working with luminaries like Will Rogers, he fought for treatment and salaries similar to his white co-stars...Hollywood pegged him as a troublemaker...Once the Civil Rights movement demanded more positive black images in the media, Stepin Fetchit became an embarrassment."  Stepin Fetchit audio, digital and print later in post. To read Kindle books, as well as do a lot more, Kindle Readers are available to suit an array of reading and browsing needs.

Hollywood was more interest in the bottom line than following Rosa Parks into the Montgomery Bus Boycott and civil rights.

Roles for black actors did not trouble the industry as they did  some black people. Working people like Rosa Parks saw the movies and were growing tired of what they had to endure and tired of seeing black actors being used as no more than props in a scene, sometimes no more important to the plot than a piece of furniture. Or if there was a more important role to be played by the black actor, the role amounted to no more than an object of amusement to the audience. The transformation is remarkable from the real personality of  Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (above right) to his screen  persona of Stepin Fetchit. 

Stepin Fetchit & Will Rogers
Stepin Fetchit & Will Rogers,
Country Chairman 1935

Stepin Fetchit was a two-man minstrel act Perry created for vaudeville performances. By the1920s, he retained the name and went solo to Hollywood with his subservient character and landed a studio contract playing easily frightened, goofy, slow-moving roles. The studio relegated Florida-born Perry to lazy aimless looking roles, careful to keep his humanity hidden. He had no choice if he wanted to act in the movies.

Will Rogers hired black actors for his movies, but the roles stayed true to the Jim Crow laws of the land.

The first black actor credited with roles not intended exclusively for black audiences, Perry said he played the roles because they were only roles and did not represent who he was, defending his position by saying, Chaplin's portrayal of the tramp on film did not make him or all Englishmen tramps. Before Perry died, black militants blamed him for his on-screen portrayals of African Americans.

Although Perry had been intelligent about his career, creating a popular film character and becoming the first black actor to attain millionaire status, he was not smart with money, spending his salary as fast as he earned it. He died in poverty after bankruptcy and several illnesses. Although Perry had protested for equal treatment in Hollywood, his characterization did little to advance the image of African Americans, including Rosa Parks, a schoolgirl at the time.

Hattie McDaniel & Will Rogers
Hattie McDaniel & Will Rogers

Former minstrel and vaudeville performer, Hattie McDaniel, was the first black woman to sing on radio. In 1934, she sang with Will Rogers in Judge Priest that  became a Will Rogers movie. McDaniel played the maid. Stepin Fetchit was also credited as a star in the movie, playing his usual shiftless style. Hattie McDaniel is said to have made the most of a comical servant role. Rosa Parks was 21 when this movie opened.

Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win a Best Supporting Oscar in the movie, Gone with the Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. English actress-dancer, Vivien Leigh, won an Oscar for Best Actress that year in her role as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Rosa Parks was 26 at this time and firm in her belief in racial equality, having faced racism and discrimination her entire life.

Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952) Receives Oscar From Fay Bainter (1939)
Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952)
1939 Oscar Presented by Fay Bainter
Hattie McDaniel: Black
Ambition , White Hollywood
by Watts, Jill
Black actresses made parts more substantive, which Hattie McDaniel did with her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (DVD or Rent Instant Video) In spite of their efforts, these black actresses were still without lives of their own on screen. There are a number of books in various formats, and digital and DVD versions of Gone with the Wind. At the end of this post are links to Gone with the Wind, books and other media.

Taking its cues from Jim Crow laws and southern tradition, Hollywood was unfair in casting black actors. In Jill Watts' book describes how McDaniel became educated, elegant, articulate and political, went to Hollywood and won an Academy Award in 1939 for her role as a nanny, a role that typecast her and ruined her career ambitions.

McDaniel, whose parents were former slaves, was born one year before the landmark 1896 case, Plessy v. Ferguson, that sanctioned the legalization of discrimination and racial segregation in the United States. This case threw the doors open for Jim Crow laws, rise of the Ku Klux Klan and increased lynching of African Americans and other people of color. As a child, McDaniel knew no other life than segregation and understood she had to find a path to a good life. Based on  inferiority that emerged after Plessy v. Ferguson, a path would not be easy. She left school and followed her father and brothers into show business where the rest would become history. 

McDaniel made 40 films portraying servants to white families, roles that were played out on screen, on stage and on the real streets of Jim Crow America, both North and South, in the days before the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Butterfly McQueen Remembered
Butterfly McQueen 

Besides the award-winning performances of Hattie McDaniel and Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind spawned several memorable performances, including Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Butterfly McQueen as the maid, Prissy. Formally trained as a dancer and actress, Florida-born, Butterfly McQueen played Scarlett O'Hara's maid, Prissy, in Gone with the Wind, the highest grossing and most controversial movie of its time.
Butterfly McQueen (1911-1995) & Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce 
Butterfly McQueen (1911-1995)
& Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce
Limited to parts as servants, McQueen took roles that paid
bills but did not challenge the mindset of executives avoiding financial consequences in the South. McQueen quit the movie business several times out of the frustration. of having to spend her film career playing maids, while industry executives continued to cast black actresses in demeaning roles that did not compete with white actresses. For many years,  complexion, hair, facial features and body types were considered when casting female roles. Black actresses were  cast as servants in the households of white families where their appearance was contrasted to that of the white female lead.

In the commercially successful 1945 movie,  Mildred Pierce, with Joan Crawford, McQueen's uncredited role as the maid set a slightly new standard of human qualities for African Americans. This effort did not break up stereotypical casting. It took several more decades before the practice was abandoned.

Rosa Parks, E.B .Nixon, Fred Gray, Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks, E.B .Nixon, President Montgomery
NAACP & Fred Gray, NAACP Attorney
African Americans like Rosa Parks knew what these casting decisions meant. Helpless to change them, they understood messages meant for white and black Americans, the same messages being given in everyday life: black people playing the roles and living lives Although all the signs were still in place, things were changing in America.

When McQueen appeared in the movie, Rosa Parks had been secretary for the Montgomery NAACP since 1943. People had become tired of seeing movies by Willie Best and others who seemed to downgrade the race.

Hollywood studio executives knew that scenes with black actors would be unmercifully cut out of their movies if the black actor was shown too respectfully or appeared in a scene on equal ground with a white actor. In most cases, the movie that was deemed unsuitably cast was not leased for showing in southern theaters, losing the studio money. The tactic of casting black female actresses as maids, cooks, nannies and caretakers of white families and their children also affected the roles that nearly white, black actresses could get.

Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson & Lena Horne
Buy Cabin in the Sky (1943) DVD
Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester"
Anderson & Lena Horne 
Unlike Ethel Waters, Lena Horne refused to play servants, stipulated in her contract, causing a rift between Horne and Waters, who knew her paycheck depended on servants' roles and resented Horne for thinking she was too good to play a maid and perhaps too glamorous to be treated like black performers. The rift between the two deepened as  Waters felt threatened by Horne's presence.

According to Horne's biography, Stormy Weather, the life of Lena Horne, by James Gavin, "Horne had forgotten an older pioneer, Ethel Waters, who had watched in pain as Horne came along and grabbed the spotlight." Black Hollywood was in transition as younger performers came onto the scene, many with elevated expectations, leaving older actors feeling betrayed, forgotten and left behind.

Lena Horne & Lennie Hayton
Lena Horne & Lennie Hayton
Married in 1947

Like the changing of the guard, younger actors entered the ranks and performers like Ethel Waters and her contemporaries became part of yesterday's Hollywood. The youngsters broke all the old rules, like dating and marrying out of their races, trying to move into white only Hollywood neighborhoods, changing the types of roles they would play and getting racial equality on screen and off. All of these, mostly unsuccessful attempts at the time to break into mainstream acceptance, frightened the old timers. Born the year that Plessy v. Ferguson was decided, Ethel Waters only knew segregation and had no reason to think it would ever change. So, she simply accepted the servants' roles and whatever treatment Hollywood dished out to its black talent. 

Rosa Parks Booking Photo Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks Booking Photo
Montgomery Bus Boycott
December 1, 1955
Black Americans like Rosa Parks--four years older than Lena Horne and  of a similar racial heritage--prepared for social change differently through organized actions to benefit larger goals than satisfying personal or financial desire. 

The year Lena Horne married white orchestra leader, Lennie Hayton, the first Freedom Riders took buses through the South. This followed the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional for black passengers to be forced to sit in the backs of buses traveling from state to state, while white passengers sat in front. To test the new ruling, a group of black and white passengers boarded buses in 1947 for the Journey of Reconciliation but were arrested in North Carolina and could not complete the journey.

In spite of social and political changes, executives knew movie distribution to Jim Crow theaters would be interrupted if the Southern image of how black persons should be portrayed on screen was not upheld. No mixing of the races or equality in relationships would be tolerated in the South. Two of Lena Horne's biggest complaints with her contract with M-G-M Studios was that the studio would not give her real acting roles with white actors and her romances with white men had to be cloaked in secrecy.

Race relations in Hollywood was an issue that was closely tied to the Cold War in the 1940s and 1950s. During that period, the U.S. Government studied the situation through its various agencies: FBI, CIA and the .House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which carried out, among other things, investigations of the Hollywood film industry executives, writers, actors and other performers and talent to determine their connections with communism. 

Lena Horne (1917-2010)  
Lena Horne (1917-2010)

Lena Horne was the first black star with an M-G-M (1942) Studio contract. Even though Horne was referred to by some as a white black woman because of her look and sound, hardly any of her scenes survived southern theater operators and the studios found it difficult to cast her, except as a singer who interacted with no other actors on film, except black ones. Movie executives were baffled as to what to do with Lena Horne as a studio commodity who had a more mainstream than African American appearance, although there was no mistaking that she was a black woman and had to be treated as such. 

Further, light-skinned black actresses like Lena Horne could not be cast in movies, such as the 1951 Show Boat, even if roles called for a bi-racial appearance because white and black actors did not share scenes as equals in early Hollywood. Interaction between characters of different races was prohibited. Therefore, mulatto Julie in Show Boat could not have been played by a black actress. Bi-racial characters went to white actresses to prevent the interaction of whites and blacks. Mixed-race couples were not permitted on screen or off by Hollywood studios, a policy mirrored in American society.

Ava Gardner (1922-1990)
Ava Gardner (1922-1990)
Although the black community disagreed with the studio choice of Ava Gardner, to  play mulatto Julie in Show Boat, the movie was a hit for M-G-M, which was the bottom line in the industry. Race relations had never been the focus in casting, one way or the other. It was always about the money. From Amazon Description: "This version of Show Boat was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1951. It is one of the finest movie musicals ever made and was the second biggest money maker of all films released in 1951." Both movie versions of Show Boat (1936 & 1951) had been based on a 1927 musical stage play.

Libby Holman (1904-1971)
Libby Holman (1904-1971)
In the stage production, mulatto Julie was played by Jewish actress, Libby Holman, who became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Read the article, The turbulent career of the torch singer and political activist Libby Holman by Sam Boardman-Jacobs.

Ava Gardner, Stevie Wonder & Lena Horne (1984)
Ava Gardner, Stevie Wonder
& Lena Horne (1984)
White actresses played bi-racial roles in both movie versions of the Fannie Hurst novel, Imitation of Life (1934 & 1959) and also the movie, Pinky, all of which were filmed during the Jim Crow era of American history. This was the case in Show Boat, for which Lena Horne's close friend, Ava Gardner, was chosen to play the bi-racial lead, Julie, instead of Horne, who was further angered when the studio darkened Gardner's skin for the bi-racial role with Max Factor Dark Egyptian, a makeup developed for Horne's tawny complexion. Making the situation harder to accept was the fact that Horne had already played the part of Julie in a production of Till the Clouds Roll By in 1946. The studio choice of Ava over Lena did not spoil the friendship between the actresses.

Discouraged, Horne returned to New York where she felt more at home. Continuing to perform concerts worldwide, Horne complained of racist treatment she received in many areas of the nation, including the Deep South, the West and the Northeast. Horne's light complexion did not insulate her from discrimination.

About Stormy Weather, the life of Lena Horne by James Gavin from Publishers Weekly: ...much of Horne's perpetual frustration stemmed from the racism black entertainers faced in the pre–civil rights era. MGM glamorized her as a darker version of its white starlets, but gave her small roles and singing cameos that Southern theaters could conveniently excise. © Reed Business

Jeane Crain & Ethel Waters (Pinky 1949)
Jeane Crain & Ethel Waters (1949)
Purchase Pinky DVD
Without offending racist attitudes,  many black actors made the best of the demeaning roles they were forced to play and managed to make good money doing so. In the movie Pinky, white actress, Jeane Crain, plays the mixed-race granddaughter of the character played by Ethel Waters. In this movie, both casting practices are illustrated--bi-racial roles going to white actresses and black actresses are cast as servants.

Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965)
Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965)
We must remember, had it not been for the perseverance of these courageous black actors and actresses, we would not have the  modern Hollywood of today that is much more inclusive than the Hollywood of the 1930s, 1940s,  950s and 1960s. Actress-singer, Dorothy Dandridge, who made her film debut in the 1950s, was the first black actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress Award for her 1954 role as Carmen Jones.,one year before Rosa Parks made her protest in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1999,

Academy Award winning actress, Halle Berry, played Dorothy Dandridge in the movie for television, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Capturing the appearance of the late star, Berry portrays the life of Dandridge during the dark days of pre-civil rights America when Dandridge was in an interracial marriage trying to survive in segregated Hollywood.

Dorothy Dandridge
Amazon Review by Sean Axmaker..."but the electrifying stage chanteuse and dancer was forbidden to even enter the nightclubs and show rooms she performed in except from the stage. As portrayed by Halle Berry (right), who shepherded Dandridge's story to the screen, Dandridge is a sure, insistent star who battled racist studios and Jim Crow laws to maintain her dignity in public while stumbling through a private life marked by bad relationships and abusive lovers. Berry gives her best performance to date."

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott directly crossed paths with Hollywood in 2002 when Angela Bassett co-produced and starred in a TV movie about Rosa Parks. Visit Rosa Parks and Jim Crow Laws in Black Hollywood to read, see photographs of the real Rosa Parks, Angela Bassett as Rosa Parks and the movie trailer. Also read and view photos at: Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott & Jim Crow

Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)
Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)
In the 1960s, Eartha Kitt, like Lena Horne ten years her senior, refused to play subservient roles in Hollywood films, on Broadway or on television. Considered by the industry as a crossover artist, Kitt's roles were mostly in movies with African American casts until 1967 when she was cast as Batman's Cat Woman, an appropriate choice since she was recognized as an American sex kitten, exhibited in her rendition of her 1953 Christmas hit, Santa Baby.

Even the race movies, however, wanted black actresses for their films with good looks, an air of superiority and light skin, believing these women set a high beauty standard for ordinary women to emulate and ordinary men to ogle. "I couldn't compromise on playing  nigger parts,"  Kitt told Ebony's Richette Haywood, in spite of the rarity of truly dynamic roles available for black actresses in the mid-fifties.

Ruby Dee (1924- )
Ruby Dee (1924- )
In 1946, Ruby appeared in her first movie, Love in Syncopation, and continued to star in film and television through the 1950s and 1960s. In many of her roles, she was a maid, but also played Rachel Robinson in the 1950 Jackie Robinson Story, worked in St. Louis Blues in 1958, starring Nat King Cole, featuring Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt and Ella Fitzgerald. Dee debuted on TV in the 1960s in the soap opera, Guiding Light, and the series, Peyton Place (ABC, 1966-69) as the wife of an affluent black doctor.  

Ruby Dee appeared in a film version of A Raisin in the Sun released by Columbia Pictures featuring the original Broadway cast, including Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, for which she won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress.Nominated eight times for Emmy awards, she and won in 1991 for the TV movie, Decoration Day. In 2007, she was nominated for an Oscar and won a Screen Actor's Guild Award for her role in American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington.

Diahann Carroll 1935 - ) & TV Son, Marc Copage
Diahann Carroll 1935 - )
& TV Son, Marc Copage

Although it was Ruby Dee who broke into network television in the early 1960s, it was in 1968 that Diahann Carrol starred as Julia Baker, a widowed mother, in the television series, Julia. This was a real victory in the African American community. For the first time in television history, the star of the show was a black women who held a professional position and was not a wife or a maid. Julia was an independent, articulate and educated young mother taking care of her son in America. This was a giant step in race relations in America.

The nation sighed collectively. Some Americans were elated. Others were saddened. Regardless, the nation was finally ending its Civil War and entering a promising future that President Abraham Lincoln had made possible, but was not to witness. A few months after Julia debuted, the nation lost Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had led the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was sparked by Rosa Parks. A few months after that, Robert F. Kennedy was also the target of an assassin's bullet. But the bell for equality had been rung and it would have been impossible to un-ring that historic bell.

Rosa Parks: A Biography (Montgomery Bus Boycott)
Rosa Parks: A Biography (Greenwood Biographies) Kindle - Rosa Parks: A Biography captures the story of this remarkable woman like no biography has before, examining the scope of Rosa Parks, from birth in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, to 1943 enrollment in the Montgomery NAACP to the dramatic events of the 1960s, and her work up to her death in 2005. Each chapter provides an exploration of a period in Parks's life, portraying the people, places, and events that shaped and were shaped by her. Readers will see in Parks, not an inadvertent tripwire of history, but a woman whose lifelong struggle against racism led her inexorably to a moment where she took a courageous stand by sitting down and not moving.

Singer-actress, Ethel Waters, also limited to servants' roles, was the first black Hollywood superstar. She made her name and her fortune playing servants and had no problem with making her money that way. These were the only roles available to her and the roles that kept her working and making top dollar for a black actress.

According to Amazon Product Review, Ethel Waters is almost forgotten: "Although she was arguably the most influential female blues and jazz singer of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a major black figure in 20th century theatre, cinema, radio and television, she is now the least remembered. In Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather, Stephen Bourne documents the career of this monumental figure in American popular culture, offering new insights into the work of this forgotten legend. Supplemented by fourteen photographs, this biography leaves little doubt as to why--for decades--no other black star was held in such high regard." 

Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's, a family memoir about life with her grandmother, Bigmama, before and during the Civil Rights Movement.

Nash has work in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women’s Eyes; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature Journal; The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.

Related Articles by Sunny Nash

Race Relations in America, the Woolworth’s Sit-ins

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott & Jim Crow

Photo: Rosa Parks on bus after Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks after Montgomery
Bus Boycott 1956
On December 1, 1955, a beautiful, smart, high-school educated, hard-working, 42-year-old seamstress, named Rosa Parks, boarded a bus after work. Like every weekday, she sat down on a seat designated 'black seating.' Stop to stop, the bus filled, leaving no vacancies in the white section. The bus driver, familiar with this situation, ordered Rosa Parks to move from her seat to allow more seating for white passengers.

Rosa Louise McCauley, born in 1913 and raised on her grandparents' farm in Alabama, was accustomed to inferior social treatment since she was a child, long before the start of the modern Civil Rights Movement began. In fact, Rosa Parks went on to become known as The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

In order to get an education, Rosa Parks walked to school because the same Jim Crow laws that prevented her from attending white schools in Alabama, also prevented her from riding  the school bus when she was a young student. The school buses were not permitted to transport black students in the Jim Crow South. Below is a video sketch of the education of Rosa Parks, an excerpt from a YouTube Biography Channel program.

Jim Crow laws were in effect from 1876 to 1965. For more videos on race relations in America, Subscribe to my YouTube Channel, iksunny.

Rosa Parks eventually went back and finished high school after she married Raymond Parks, who also encouraged her to join him in working with the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Sign: No Spanish or Mexican  
Sign: No Spanish or Mexican
Rosa Parks wanted more opportunity. A person of color who had been denied decent treatment by society all of her life, Parks had finally had enough and refused to move when the bus driver ordered her to another seat. I can only imagine what must have been going through the mind of a woman who was fed up with it. recognized the fed-up expressions on the faces of my mother, grandmother, father and others I knew when I had seen them in similar situations.

Again, the bus driver ordered Rosa Parks to move to another seat in his attempt to enforce a Jim Crow law that mandated racial segregation of all public and private facilities and separate but equal facilities for customers, clients, students, patrons, patients and  passengers who were black or people of color.

Photo: Segregated Birmingham, Alabama, Bus, Birmingham Public Library, via NPR
Segregated Alabama Bus
Source: Birmingham Public Library
Via: National Public Radio
Jim Crow laws required blacks to give up seats to whites, as needed, determined by bus drivers. If whites were standing because their section of the bus was filled, the driver corrected the situation by ordering black riders to move from their seats to allow whites to sit instead. When Rosa Parks would not move from her seat, the bus driver haled a policeman to assist him in the matter.

I was six when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. I knew about it because the Nash family took newspapers from all over the country and they explained to me what was going on. "It's a way of life that is ending," my mother said. "Nothing personal, just the end of a way of life. Are you ready?" I had a vague notion of what this meant but not really.

My family tried to protect me from the harshest of it all. There were places we didn't go. And that, I learned later, was to avoid the shame of it all. My mother only took me to segregated places that were absolutely necessary to my life--the doctor, bus station, movies, school and other public facilities where my presence was needed. We didn't eat out very often because restaurants required us to enter through a rear door, sit in an inferior location or walk up to an outdoor window to order and receive food. My cousin, Joyce, reminded me the other day that at the bus station in her home town required African Americans to eat their orders in the baggage room at discarded desks retrieved from a local school.

Book: Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
In the excerpt below from “Movies—Not Just Black-and-White,” one of the essays in my book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, I write about the first time my mother took me to lunch and the movies. It was about to rain that Saturday afternoon but my young mother agreed to take her little daughter to the movies anyway:

Without reply, my mother dug into her tiny cloth coin purse and paid. Time passed as slowly as it could before her change and our food arrived. “Y’all can’t eat in here,” the cook said. Without a word, my mother grabbed my hand and dragged  me to the back door. As we stood outside and ate in silence, I thought I saw a tear sparkle on my mother’s cheek as the day’s last sunlight stroked her face. With a few drops of rain falling on us, we took the short walk to the Palace Theater and stood at the ticket window outside the main lobby. The aroma of buttered popcorn floated through the little round hole in the glass where the ticket woman worked. To avoid getting wet in the shower, the moviegoers dashed through a glass front door into a dry, comfortable lobby filled with tiny white lights, velvet draperies, and red carpet. By the time my mother and I got our tickets, big drops of rain were splashing down on our heads. With her hair heavy with water, sliding into her face, my mother dug into her tiny cloth coin purse and paid. The little blue door on the outside of the theater slammed us inside the darkest place I’d ever been—like a coffin, I thought, holding my mother’s hand. 

Littie Nash
Littie Nash

My mother, Littie Nash, wrestled with Jim Crow racism during the 1950s and 1960s, while giving me the life of a little princess with imagination and without the luxury of having a lot of money...Littie, the ultimate stage mother, did not waste compliments on me or anyone else. She reserved accolades to celebrate real accomplishments, not just because I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made an 'A' on my report card. "Some things you have to do," she said. "And those things pass, not without notice, but without an all-day hullabaloo."

To support my efforts, my mother sponsored piano, ballet, tennis and swimming lessons, dance performances, recitals, literary and classical music club memberships, summer camps, school trips and science fair exhibits, still managing to squeeze out of our tight budget money for the dentist to install braces on my teeth. It took a great deal of courage to live with dignity and raise me to have aspirations. About my upbringing, Littie got it right, although I took detours of my own along the way. Read more at: Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World 

AS EARLY AS 1943, Rosa Parks refused to board the bus using a rear entry, the door for black bus riders. Parks and her mother had always refused to enter the bus through the rear door, while other black riders bad to use the rear door. Rosa Parks had challenged Jim Crow bus policy in Montgomery twelve years before she  boarded the bus on December 1, 1955, and started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Nine months before the boycott, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was dragged off a Montgomery bus by police, handcuffed and jailed on March 2, 1955. Her case, got little notice and no support. Review and purchase Claudette Colvin at links on left. 

Photo: Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, ordered by the bus driver to move, Rosa Parks refused. Did she make the decision alone? In her words, she says, we waited so long to make this protest, indicating the protest was decided, not by herself, but in concert with others. Why was Rosa Parks chosen to spark the boycott? Was it because she had a history of protest? Was it because she worked with the NAACP? Was it because she was part of a larger plan? 

"The only thing that bothered me," Parks said. "Was that we waited so long to make this protest."

“People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired,” Rosa Parks wrote in her autobiography, “but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Photo: A. Philip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt
A. Philip Randolph
& First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt,
Who, Like Randolph, 
Supported Civil Rights
in the Armed Services,
& Pilot Training Programs
At Tuskegee Institute
Rosa Parks was arrested, fingerprinted and paid a fine of fourteen dollars for refusing to follow bus driver’s orders, but was not jailed. Parks called Rev. E.B. Nixon, president of the Montgomery NAACP, a group with which Parks had worked diligently for some time as youth leader. Nixon called the Washington D.C. NAACP, a group that decided "to move on it today."  Read below to see that there was more to Rosa Parks's interest in the Civil Rights Movement than integrating buses. Rev. A. Philip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were brought into the Montgomery Bus Boycott quickly to organize efforts.

Asa Philip Randolph, born in 1889 in Florida, studied in New York and formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925; helped form the Fair Employment Practices Committee; and threatened to organize a protest in Washington against discrimination in the armed forces and defense industries in the 1930s and 40s. In 1955, he joined the AFL-CIO executive council and was vice president in 1957. Randolph helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington. He died in 1979.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was in his mid-twenties at the time of the boycott, and had been the pastor at Dexter St. Baptist Church in Montgomery for only a short time when he became the official leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which led him to later become the leading figure in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Rosa Parks Booking Photo
Rosa Parks
Booking Photo
Photo: Martin Luther King Jailed
Martin Luther King
On December 5, 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott officially began. Signs and fliers announced to those who did not agree with policy that they should not ride. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and 91 others were prosecuted for starting the bus boycott.

Because two-thirds of the bus riders in Montgomery were  black, the NAACP was well aware that this bus boycott would strike a serious blow to the financial condition of the bus system. The black population of Montgomery at the time was about 40,000. If the entire black population participated in the boycott along with whites who were supporting the boycott or those trying to avoid trouble, then the total participation could have exceeded 50,000, which was the estimate of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). More on the MIA later. 

Photo: Montgomery Bus Boycott in Rain
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rain, Shine, Sleet & Snow
People Walked to Work,
Church and Everywhere

In the dead of winter, most people around the nation were beginning to prepare for their annual shopping traditions, gift selecting and wrapping rituals, rich and savory family holiday dinners. While Christmas and all the celebrations were in the air, Montgomery bus riders tackled the weather in coats, hats, scarves and rain gear. But they stayed off the buses. Montgomery citizens lost jobs, either because they couldn’t get to work or they were fired out of hostility. Non-the-less, they simply refused old racist treatment. Following Rosa Parks and her courageous action, people used carpools and walked to work and every other place they had previously ridden buses. 

Photo: Montgomery Bus Boycott walking to school and work
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Protesters Walking to Work & School
Many white citizens were against the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It threatened racial status quo. What is slow to be revealed is that some white sympathizers tried to participate in the boycott by providing black workers rides to work. Some say this seemingly generous action was selfish on the part of whites who wanted the work done.

Observers of the historical event say the action of mostly white housewives may have started out as a way to get their maids to work, but ended up with them providing rides to other black workers, as well. I have not been able to locate any photographs of whites driving black workers during the boycott. Perhaps pictures of whites driving blacks are scarce because some whites in the Jim Crow South were careful not to be identified with the growing Civil Rights Movement, which would have made them vulnerable in their own racist communities.

Whites, along with blacks who were providing rides during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, were refused taxi permits to prevent them from carrying passengers in their private vehicles. When these white drivers provided rides anyway, they were harassed by Ku Klux Klan members who were often law enforcement and just as often their neighbors. Identified as bus boycott affiliates, black and white drivers reacted nonviolently. The Klan, however, turned violent, bombing the homes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and E.B. Nixon. 

Photo: Martin Luther King MIA Meeting, Rosa Parks in Front Row
Martin Luther King
Conducts MIA Meeting
Montgomery Bus Boycott

MIA was organized specifically to address the needs of the bus boycott. This predominately black community group was made up of  blacks and whites with a basic goal of improving race relations in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr., (right) conducts an MIA meeting in 1955. Rosa Parks is seated in the front row.

Through two consecutive Christmas Holidays, with me and the world watching, this non-rider policy in Alabama continued through rain, shine, sleet and snow and over again for more than a year, 381 days. On November 13, 1956, the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended when the United States Supreme Court decided that segregation laws were unconstitutional.

Photo: Rosa Parks boarding bus after Montgomery Bus Boycott
Black Montgomery Bus Boycotters Boarding Bus
Through Front Entry after Supreme Court Decision
Rosa Parks Leading the Way
Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his book, Stride Toward Freedom, "with a mixture of anxiety and hope, I read these words: 'The United States Supreme Court today affirmed a decision of a special three-judge U.S. District Court in declaring Alabama's state and local laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Supreme Court acted without listening to any argument; it simply said 'the motion to affirm is granted and the Judgment is affirmed. At this moment my heart began to throb with an inexpressible joy. The darkest hour of our struggle had indeed proved to be the first hour of victory."

After her husband Raymond died, Rosa Parks co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Institute for Self Development, in February 1987 with Ms. Elaine Eason Steele, in honor of Raymond Parks (1903-1977), "the living legacy of two individuals who committed their lives to civil and human rights."

Rosa Parks is a hero, we all agree. Without her bravery and commitment, race relations in America would not have progressed at the speed it did. Parks, however, had a great deal of assistance in changing the the Jim Crow South. We have to remember in our quest for education on the civil rights era that there were churches, organizations and lots of people involved. Many individuals, who began with one sentiment, ended up with a totally different view of race.

What I now know that I did not know as a child  is that many white people also felt burdened by that way of life, some of whom grew up a few blocks from me and attended separate schools but, later, became my closest friends. They were children back then, just like me, inheritors of the tradition. These were the same people who joined the marches, broke the old hiring rules and changed their minds after generations of  careful conditioning by family and society.

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Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, affected race relations in America and early Hollywood, in that, studios had to change with the new racial climate that had relegated black actors to servants' roles and mirrored pre-civil rights America.

In The Rosa Parks Story Angela Bassett becomes Rosa Parks in a portrayal of the legendary civil rights heroine that seems more real than performance. The article covers aspects of Rosa Parks' life and the Montgomery Bus Boycott with photographs and videos.

Woolworth's sit-ins by black and white college students in Greensboro NC between February and July 1960 integrated lunch counters cross the nation. 

Race relations in America and Southern California were changed by 12 African American women who made a difference in Long Beach, featured in historical profiles, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way.