Brown vs. Board of Education—the Supreme Court decision that ruled school segregation unconstitutional—passed in 1954, but turning legislature into action took several years to transpire. It wasn't until 1957 that nine black students, already enrolled at Little Rock Central High, began their first day of school, only to be met with an angry crowd and the Arkansas National Guard. The governor of Alabama, Orval Faubus (names don't get much more evil-sounding than that) prevented the students from entering the school. It took a presidential intervention on the part of Eisenhower to send the National Guard to escort the students. Behind the scenes though, was Daisy Bates.
One might have hoped that, by this hour, the very sight of chains on black flesh, or the very sight of chains, would be so intolerable a sight for the American people, and so unbearable a memory, that they would themselves spontaneously rise up and strike off the manacles. But no, they appear to glory in their chains; now, more than ever, they appear to measure their safety in chains and corpses. -James Baldwin to Angela Davis.*
"I wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for your courage," Oprah said "but I am frustrated, I am disappointed, and at times angry that the history does not get carried forth." Oprah was speaking about the Freedom Rides, a months-long Civil Rights demonstration in 1961 organized by CORE and executed by young people risking their life to travel by bus from Washington, D.C. to the Deep South to challenge segregation. Combining historical commemoration with the highly-watched last season of her talk show, Oprah honored these incredible activists with a special segment. Regardless of how you feel about the media mogul, she's bringing an incredible historical legacy to a huge audience and reminding everyone that there's plenty of work left to do. On her show yesterday, the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Oprah teared up introducing almost 200 surviving activists of the ride to her show. She also featured filmmaker Stanley Nelson, whose film Freedom Riders will premiere on PBS later this month.
So this week's Adventure in Feministory takes us to Montgomery, Alabama, in December of 1955. While we're there, we're going to be spending some time with a 42-year-old department store seamstress named Rosa Parks. Perhaps you've heard of her? Were she alive, the first lady of American Civil Rights would turn 98 this Friday. It's not every day Congress passes an act bestowing a gold medal on a lady for "her contributions to the nation," but they did for Parks, in 1999. Because the Happy Birthday song is trademarked, let's take a look back at Parks's extraordinary life and celebrate her, Feministory-style.
Today's Martin Luther King Jr. Adventures in Feministory focuses on Bayard Rustin, one of the most important individuals in the Civil Rights Movement, and a life-long activist for human dignity, but whose contributions are are overlooked (then and now) because he was gay.
For whatever inexplicable reason, I started watching Gossip Girl a few weeks ago. Tonight's episode featured Tyra Banks as an actress playing Josephine Baker in a movie. At some point during the episode, it was brought up that Baker was part of the underground Nazi resistance movement during WWII in France, which I did not know about (you can learn something from Gossip Girl, who knew?). Ergo, I give you this week's Adventures In Feministory: Josephine Baker.
While studying the Civil Rights Movement during college, somewhere along the way I heard about a young woman who, as one prof put it, "sat before Rosa Parks sat." However, this nameless woman was ultimately deemed "unfit" to serve as the test case to trigger the Montgomery boycott, which would precipitate the Movement. Why was she considered unfit? Well, as the story went, the young woman (actually a 15-year-old girl) became pregnant by an older, married man, and so the more reputable Rosa Parks took center stage. Read on to find out more about Claudette Colvin's "forgotten contribution."