Today is day five on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. We visited the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy State University in Montgomery, Alabama. Once again the list of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement is drastically widened.
Hearing the tales of the bus boycott, we learned the names of four females who were also monumental in the desegregation of public buses. Mary Louise Smith, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Aurelia S. Browder were each one of many African-Americans who refused to give up their seats as others boarded the bus months before Rosa Parks did the same.
While Rosa Parks served as the face of the movement, Browder vs. Gayle was the ruling that overturned the dehumanizing system of segregated seating. However, this case is not written in the textbooks, nor are the names of these women enshrined on any monuments as homage.
Then, there is the case of Medgar Evers, Jimmie Lee Jackson and other martyrs in the Civil Rights movement known as foot soldiers. All of these brave souls gave their lives for the revolution – and sparked key dates and events that helped make the Civil Rights Act possible. However, their stories are not in the textbooks.
In a day and age when violence plagues the public schools and African-American students struggle with ideals about their self-image (desperately trying to look more and more like the Anglo-American features that are accepted as beauty), why is this history hidden from them?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed the world and was a remarkable leader; Rosa Parks stood up for her rights and sparked a system of change. Their stories are well known in many schools. However, until the stories of the average men, women, teens and children of all shades and creeds who came together to stand up against hate are encompassed in the curriculum, the well-known leaders like Dr. King and Mrs. Parks shall continue to be “the Lone Ranger” pillars in the minds of students.
This, in turn, breeds the thought path that the Dixie monster of racism and segregation was defeated by a select handful of individuals, when in actuality it was overcome by the blood, tears and efforts of thousands of everyday individuals.
History reminds us that the dark, bloodthirsty hatred that stained the history of the Southern past was systematically taught; it did not occur overnight. Thus, the importance of a continual lesson of love and nonviolence – which many foot soldiers desperately fought for into their graves – should also be continually taught in order to reach the society of equality and tolerance in which we believe.