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Nine Years Ago: Eric Foner Reviews a Biography of Rosa Parks

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{February is African American History month. And no one should hold Barack Obama's pitiful first-year performance against it. This book review appeared in the May, 2001, issue of the London Review of Books. Eric Foner is DeWitt Professor of History at Columbia University in New York, and the author of "Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction."

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The book being reviewed by Professor Foner is "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Life of Rosa Parks" by Douglas Brinkley (Weidenfeld, 2001) - GLR}

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Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King (Wikipedia)


On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black woman who had just completed her day's work in a department store in Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a city bus to a white passenger, as required by municipal law. The incident sparked a year-long bus boycott, the beginning of the modern phase of the civil rights revolution. And it made Parks, the "seamstress with tired feet" (she was a tailor's assistant), an international symbol of ordinary blacks' determination to resist the daily injustices and indignities of the Jim Crow South.

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Today, with the birthday of Martin Luther King a national holiday and Alabama cities like Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery competing to attract tourists by highlighting their role in the struggle for racial justice, Rosa Parks has become a national icon second only to King himself. Highways, city streets and subway stations have been named in her honor. A black fisherman in Alaska refers to himself, according to USA Today, as "the Rosa Parks of the Bering Sea'. In the past few years, Parks has been awarded a Congressional medal, been invited to sit beside the First Lady during a State of the Union address by President Clinton, and been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most significant individuals of the 20th century. Last December, at the street corner where she was arrested, Montgomery's city fathers opened the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, complete with a sculpture of Parks in her bus seat with space for visitors to have their pictures taken sitting alongside her bronze replica.

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 

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