10 Things You Didn’t Know About Rosa Parks

by Jeanne Theoharis


(from The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis)

1. Parks had been thrown off the bus a decade earlier by the same bus driver — for refusing to pay in the front and go around to the back to board. She had avoided that driver’s bus for twelve years because she knew well the risks of angering drivers, all of whom were white and carried guns. Her own mother had been threatened with physical violence by a bus driver, in front of Parks who was a child at the time. Parks’ neighbor had been killed for his bus stand, and teenage protester Claudette Colvin, among others, had recently been badly manhandled by the police.

2. Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Malcolm X was her personal hero. Her family kept a gun in the house, including during the boycott, because of the daily terror of white violence. As a child, when pushed by a white boy, she pushed back. His mother threatened to kill her, but Parks stood her ground. Another time, she held a brick up to a white bully, daring him to follow through on his threat to hit her. He went away. When the Klu Klux Klan went on rampages through her childhood town, Pine Level, Ala., her grandfather would sit on the porch all night with his rifle. Rosa stayed awake some nights, keeping vigil with him.

3. Her husband was her political partner. Parks said Raymond was “the first real activist I ever met.” Initially she wasn’t romantically interested because Raymond was more light-skinned than she preferred, but she became impressed with his boldness and “that he refused to be intimidated by white people.” When they met he was working to free the nine Scottsboro boys and she joined these efforts after they were married. At Raymond’s urging, Parks, who had to drop out in the eleventh grade to care for her sick grandmother, returned to high school and got her diploma. Raymond’s input was crucial to Parks’ political development and their partnership sustained her political work over many decades.

4. Many of Parks’ ancestors were Indians. She noted this to a friend who was surprised when in private Parks removed her hairpins and revealed thick braids of wavy hair that fell below her waist. Her husband, she said, liked her hair long and she kept it that way for many years after his death, although she never wore it down in public. Aware of the racial politics of hair and appearance, she tucked it away in a series of braids and buns — maintaining a clear division between her public presentation and private person.

5. Parks’ arrest had grave consequences for her family’s health and economic well-being. After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn’t find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition, and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The black press, culminating in JET magazine’s July 1960 story on “the bus boycott’s forgotten woman,” exposed the depth of Parks’ financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.

6. Parks spent more than half of her life in the North. The Parks family had to leave Montgomery eight months after the boycott ended. She lived for most of that time in Detroit in the heart of the ghetto, just a mile from the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riot. There, she spent nearly five decades organizing and protesting racial inequality in “the promised land that wasn’t.”

7. In 1965 Parks got her first paid political position, after over two decades of political work. After volunteering for Congressman John Conyers’s long shot political campaign,

Parks helped secure his primary victory by convincing Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Detroit on Conyers’s behalf. He later hired her to work with constituents as an administrative assistant in his Detroit office. For the first time since her bus stand, Parks finally had a salary, access to health insurance, and a pension — and the restoration of dignity that a formal paid position allowed.

8. Parks was far more radical than has been understood. She worked alongside the Black Power movement, particularly around issues such as reparations, black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for black political prisoners, independent black political power, and economic justice. She attended the Black Political Convention in Gary and the Black Power conference in Philadelphia. She journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabama to support the movement there, spoke at the Poor People’s Campaign, helped organize support committees on behalf of black political prisoners such as the Wilmington 10 and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Africa, and paid a visit of support to the Black Panther school in Oakland, CA.

9. Parks was an internationalist. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, a member of The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and a supporter of the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest in D.C. In the 1980s, she protested apartheid and U.S. complicity, joining a picket outside the South African embassy and opposed U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling on the United States to work with the international community and no retaliation or war.

10. Parks was a lifelong activist and a hero to many, including Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”



Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln provides an excellent though dramatised snapshot of one of the most seminal moments in US and world history, when slavery was formally abolished with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution as the Civil War neared its conclusion.

It is hard to grasp, when viewing these events 150 years later, the monumental part that Abraham Lincoln played in ending slavery in the midst of a political environment which ensured that its abolition was far from certain right up until the vote on the Thirteenth Amendment was taken.

As the movie highlights, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a temporary war measure drawn up by Lincoln under his constitutional authority as commander in chief of US armed forces. It was not a law passed by the Congress. The danger that Lincoln faced was that without an amendment to the Constitution formally abolishing slavery the power to do so would revert to individual states once the war was over, making it certain that it would remain legally sanctioned in the former slave states. The amendment passed easily in the Senate, where the Republicans held an overall majority, but in the House they did not and winning the vote by the two-thirds majority required was far from a foregone conclusion.

IMG-20130127-00185Lincoln was faced with centrifugal political forces both to the right and left of him as he sought the votes he  needed to pass the amendment. On his left the radical Republicans, led by Thaddeus Stevens, would brook nothing less than immediate steps to recognise the full and complete racial equality of the slaves, up to and including their enfranchisement. This Lincoln knew was impossible. The best that could be won, based on the forces arrayed against him to his right in the shape of a small group of conservative Republicans and War Democrats, was equality under the law. Ever a pragmatist, Lincoln understood the necessity in politics of tailoring aims at any given time to prevailing conditions. In the movie this is depicted in an exchange between Lincoln and Stevens, during which their respective differences on the speed at which full equality can take place are discussed.

In response to the Senator’s accusation that Lincoln is a compromiser and weak, Lincoln tells him

“A compass will point you true north. But it won’t show you the swamps between you and there. If you don’t avoid the swamps, what’s the use of knowing true north?”

I’m not sure if this exchange was apocryphal or not, but it offers an object lesson in politics as the art of the possible, an art in which Abraham Lincoln was a true genius.

To his right, Lincoln was faced with those previously mentioned War Democrats and conservative Republicans who were up in arms over the possibility that the amendment would result in racial equality and the enfranchisement of 4 million former slaves being called for by Stevens and the abolitionists. For them the priority throughout the Civil War had always been the maintenance of the Union and to halt the expansion of slavery rather than see its complete abolition. It was the same position taken by Lincoln himself in the initial stages of the Civil War, reflected in the contents of a letter he wrote in response to an editorial by Horace Greeley which appeared the New York Tribune in 1862, calling for abolition. Lincoln wrote

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

However, further on in the same letter, he writes

“I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

Here we see irrefutable evidence of the distinction that Lincoln drew between what he viewed as his official duty as president of the United States to preserve the Union at all costs in 1862, including slavery if need be, and his personal wish to see it ended. It is a vital distinction, as it serves to refute the notion that Lincoln was not anti-slavery as a matter of principle but instead adopted an anti-slavery position as a tactic to help win the war. The difference between 1862, when he articulated the sentiments expressed in his letter to Greeley, and 1864-65 when he was pushing for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, was two years of Civil War making the conditions required to push for abolition more favourable and his re-election with a mandate to do so.

Frederick Douglass, the great black champion of the abolitionist cause, once said of Lincoln, “In his company, I was never reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color”


Lincoln was able to win the necessary Democrat votes required to give him his two thirds majority by offering patronage in the form of federal jobs and positions of influence. The passing of the amendment is a very powerful moment in the movie, illustrative of its impact after 400 years of African slavery. The fact that Lincoln shared a country with millions of barbarians who believed that slavery was ordained by nature and the bible, his achievement in winning the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment was a phenomenal one. But by no means did the struggle end there. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which taken together with the Thirteenth are known as the Reconstruction Amendments, followed after Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865, when he was assassinated.

The movie includes Oscar winning performances by Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), Sally Field (Mary Lincoln), and David Strathairn (William H Seward). Typically of a Speilberg movie it is beautifully shot and the attention to historical detail when it comes to sets, costume, and atmosphere is first rate. There are a couple of melodramatic moments in the film that it could have done without- none more so than the unlikely scene of two black Union soldiers repeat the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln while the president is on a visit to their camp. It is also unconscionable that Frederick Douglass is missing from the movie, given the historical role that he played in the campaign to end slavery and his relationship with Lincoln.

Finally, a word on the pictures that accompany the article. They are of the only monuments to the US Civil War that exists outside the US. The monument is located in the Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh city centre. It was erected in 1893 in honour of Scottish soldiers who volunteered and fought on the Union side.

This report from BBC News provides more detail and history of the monument.




Tarantino, Alex Jones and the Ongoing Controversy of Gun Control and Violence in America

Interesting to see Tarantino become animated in his refusal to discuss violence in his movies. In the US the ongoing controversy of gun control in the wake of recent massacres and school shootings, the latest yesterday in Los Angeles, shows little sign of abating.

Britain’s Piers Morgan has found himself cast as the bete noire of the pro-gun lobby for using his CNN show to argue for gun control, with a petition calling for his deportation being instigated by shock jock and conspiracy nut Alex Jones.

Below the Tarantino interview is the YouTube of Jones’s tirade at Morgan during a recent interview about gun control.

Lessons from Obama’s Win

by John Haylett

Morning Star

WHAT a difference a period of four years makes. Barack Obama’s initial presidential victory in 2008 sparked hope and expectation across the globe.

This time round expectations were muted and the overwhelming feeling is one of relief that his opponent did not carry the day.

Many commentators have pointed to the litany of political letdowns that Obama has perpetrated, from his failure to confront vested private health interests over universal healthcare provision to his personal involvement in choosing targets for the assassination-by-drone campaign.

The sense of disappointment is palpable, but it was still correct to advocate, as US labour did, another four years for Obama.

Yes, he is a creature of Wall Street, committed to monopoly capitalism and US imperialism, but neither socialism nor working class international solidarity was on the ballot paper.

Nor was it possible to state that there were no qualitative differences between the candidates of the two big business parties.

While Obama opted for the Keynesian approach of investing for growth to deal with the crisis unleashed by the banks, Mitt Romney remained hooked on his small-state austerity agenda.

Given the state of the US economy in the wake of the subprime mortgage scandal and the banking fiasco, which have delivered homelessness and unemployment, conventional wisdom dictates that he ought to have picked up his cards yesterday.

But his response to the hurricane Sandy emergency, mobilising federal resources to save lives and property while his opponent lost his tongue, reversed the tide of opinion and carried him over the finish line.

There are lessons for Labour politicians to be learned from Obama’s success in plucking victory from the jaws of defeat.

The first is that there is no future in echoing the Mitt Romney-David Cameron line that deficit reduction is the priority.

Investing in economic expansion, through manufacturing and public services, can reverse rising unemployment, poverty and slashed welfare entitlements.

Increased government tax revenues by dint of enhanced economic activity and higher employment rates will be more effective in trimming government debt than the Romney-Cameron slash-and-burn formula.

US elections are not just about who sits in the White House for the next four years.

As well as deciding which party controls the two houses of Congress, citizens in individual states have the right to tender propositions on specific policies, two of which in California merit comment.

Proposition 30, advanced by Governor Jerry Brown won popular support for his demand to increase income tax on those paid over $250,000 a year and to raise sales tax by 0.25 per cent to fund online education programmes.

Trade unionists were successful in leading a popular alliance to defeat Proposition 32, put forward by business and bankrolled by a secretive $11 million contribution, aimed at restricting unions’ capacity to fund political campaigns.

Similar grassroots work will be essential to deciding how far Obama departs from the disappointing fare of its first term.

Apart from domestic economic issues, the president could make a positive regional impact by building bridges with Venezuela’s recently re-elected president and lifting the blockade — even temporarily — of Cuba in the wake of Sandy’s widespread destruction.

Whatever the problems associated with a Republican House of Representatives, Obama has the chance to confront the defenders of privilege and mark his period in office as historic in a way that many supporters dreamed of in 2008.

Obama’s Victory Should Be Welcomed by the Left

Barack Obama has won a second term in the White House after one of the longest, gruelling, and most expensive presidential campaigns in US history.

Though he lost support among white working class males in this election a progressive coalition of Black, Hispanic, the young, and women voters cemented his victory, especially in those all-important battleground states that were at the heart of both candidates’ campaigns in the final few weeks.

The manner of Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy gave his campaign an unintended but significant boost at a time when some polls had Romney edging ahead. The endorsements the president received over his handling of the disaster by in particular the Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, was probably worth more than a month of campaign ads to the Obama campaign when it came to winning many of those crucial swing votes.

The deep polarisation that cleaves US society ensures that presidential elections have become increasingly akin to battles between the New Testament and Old Testament, with the opportunity and potential for consensus across the aisle wishful thinking. In his first term the obstructionist stance of a Republican controlled congress after the mid term elections left Obama unable to carry forward many of the reforms and policies he’d based his presidency on, illustrating the essential weakness of a democratic system monopolised by vested and corporate interests.

Moreover, the Supreme Court victory of Citizens United v Federal Electoral Commission in 2010 over the issue of campaign finance, touched on by Andy Newman in a previous article, effectively granting corporations the same right to free expression as people, amounts to a corruption of the very word democracy. It ensures that political office is bought and paid for in a way it isn’t in any other western democracy. The result has been the emergence of superPACS, independent political committees that deliver anonymous and unlimited financial support to political candidates.

Obama’s most significant decision when first elected in 2008 was to demobilise the massive grassroots base of volunteers that had largely been responsible for propelling him into office. As a result he quickly moved from being a change and populist candidate into just another machine politician, absent of the political support required to implement the meaningful reforms in Washington he’d pledged before taking office. Many on the left and in progressive circles were no doubt blinded by the fact he was the first viable black candidate for office, in the process projecting progressive credentials onto him that were unrealistic. Barack Obama is and has always been a centrist.

No matter, his repeated campaign boast of having saved the US auto industry and the millions of jobs involved with an $80 billion bailout package in 2009 is no idle one. It was a brave and a bold decision in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, flying in the face of three decades of neoliberal economics. At the time, according to a Pew Research poll, 54 percent of Americans did not support it.

US automotive industry expert Maryann Keller said of the bailout: “It had to be fast; it was ugly, and they certainly didn’t play by the rules of who are the preferred creditors. On the other hand, they saved the industry.”

A Pew poll this year recorded that 56 percent of respondents approved of the Obama bailout of the auto industry and considered it good for the US economy. GM and Chrysler are now in profit and the US auto industry has turned around.

For this and the fact that Romney ran on an avowedly anti-organized labour platform, the unions had much at stake in this election. As a consequence Obama’s victory will be seen as a victory for them and their millions of members, who would otherwise be facing a bleak future today.

Obamacare, as the president’s healthcare reforms have come to be known, falls short of the kind of government funded single payer system that bespeaks a civilised society. It continues to ensure billions in profits for the insurance industry and private healthcare providers, but it does preserve Medicare and Medicaid, and it does ensure that no one is deprived coverage due to pre-existing conditions, as was the case under the previous system.

When it comes to international issues, there is no doubt that Obama’s re-election will have met with considerable relief in places like Iran, Cuba, China, and Russia. Even with the crimes committed by the Obama administration, specifically with the ramping up of drone attacks against targets in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, costing the lives of around 9,000 people during his first term, the idea that there would be little difference if Romney had been elected is simply not credible.

Romney’s statements of intent when it came to the issue of Iran in particular, which if elected and if implemented would have amounted to a resurrection the era of the unilateral deployment of hard power that defined the Bush era, were reason enough to support Obama’s re-election. It is also significant that the political right in Israel, headed by Netanyahu, were hoping for a Romney White House.

To be President of the United States is to preside over a global empire that has its own dynamic and momentum. No one could ever hope to get elected to the White House who does not unequivocally support the logic and imperatives of empire as the very essence of US exceptionalism. The historic low level of class consciousness prevalent in the country is a product of the compelling mythology of the American dream and land of the free ethos. Feeding an apotheosis of individualism, both have proved an historic bulwark against the threat of a counter-hegemonic narrative of class and class-based ideology within the United States, even during periods of extreme economic hardship as now.

Regardless, the United States is a declining superpower, one that will increasingly become reliant on its overwhelming military might to maintain its global hegemony as its economy loses ground in the years ahead. For this and the other aforementioned factors the logic of lesser evilism is inescapable when it comes to any US presidential election.

This is why Obama’s victory should be welcomed by progressives and socialists not only in the United States but around the world.

Meanwhile in Beijing…

Lost amid the deluge of western media coverage of the upcoming US presidential election on November 6 has been an equally if not more important event, beginning on November 8, when the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China convenes in Beijing to elect a new Central Committee and replace seven of the nine members of the current Politburo, who are due to retire and/or stand down. These include the current President of People’s Republic – Hu Jintao.

His successor is likely to be the current vice president, Xi Jinping, who is seen as close to the military and is likely to adopt a more robust stance when it comes to dealing with the West than the moderate one taken by Jintao. This will likely manifest most over the issue of US support for Taiwan, when it comes to heightening tension with Japan over the territorial rights to a group of islands in the East China Sea (Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China) but also when it comes to US policy towards the Middle East, from which China derives around 40 percent of its oil.

The key difference in global terms between the significance of the US presidential election and the imminent leadership reorganisation in China is the difference between the political and economic crisis engulfing a declining power, the United States, and the growing political and economic strength of its emergent rival to the East, China.

China’s economic growth over the past three decades has been simply staggering, averaging around 10 percent year on year. Though its growth has dipped and is predicted to end 2012 at around 7.7%, the success of the People’s Republic in weathering the global recession to the extent it has continues to confound economists in the West.

A key factor in China’s continued economic growth even as global markets for its exports, in particular the US, have contracted sharply, is the boost to domestic demand as a consequence of the rapid urbanisation that has seen millions migrate from the countryside into the city. Meeting the concomitant increased need for jobs has presented the current leadership with one of the biggest challenges any Chinese government has faced since it opened up its economy in the late 1970s. It has gone some way to meeting this challenge, as well as stimulating its economy, with a raft of major infrastructure projects, taking advantage of its unique position within the global economy of being deposit rich as a consequence of an economic model that has hitherto placed a priority on saving over consumption.

Strict controls over the convertibility of the renminbi has lent further stability to China’s economy, acting as a firewall against the sudden and often sharp fluctuations suffered by convertible currencies.

For the US – a declining economic power relative to China, though still some way ahead in terms of overall GDP – China’s sharp increase in military spending in recent years, needed to protect its accumulating global interests and economic alliances, is undoubtedly a major source of concern. This strategic threat to US hegemony is reflected in a staggering US defence budget of over $1 trillion in 2012. Compare this to China’s 2012 defence budget of $106.4 billion (which constitutes an 11.2 percent increase from 2011). To put this disparity in even greater context, the US defence budget constitutes 46.5 percent of the entire world’s military budget, whilst China’s constitutes around 7 percent. Regardless, Romney’s pledge to increase US defence spending by 2 trillion dollars over the next ten years if elected president is located in the mounting worry within a section of the US political and security establishment over China’s increased military spending.

China’s role as the world’s major creditor to the US, to the tune of $1.2 trillion (2011), in effect funding US domestic consumption, is one half of the reason why the relationship between both countries will remain a mutually dependent at least in the short term, despite being adversaries. For China, its main priority lies in continuing to ensure the viability of US domestic consumption in order to maintain the US as its largest export market, though in recent years it has placed more emphasis on regional markets.

It is predicted that China’s GDP will have caught up with the US by 2018, though US GDP per capita will still remain considerably higher. However, based on current projections, China’s GDP per capita is predicted to outstrip that of the US by 2030.

Western critics of China have long pointed to the lack of democratic and political rights enjoyed by its citizens. But this reflects the paucity of understanding in the West when it comes to the distinct development of Chinese culture and its fractured history. The relationship between the state and society in China is much different to its western counterpart. In China the state is seen as sacrosanct, with a premium placed on unity over the ability to change course through the election of a new government every few years and thus risk instability.

The ‘century of humiliation’ by which China’s subjugation at the hands of the western and Japanese colonialism is known, beginning with the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century and ending with the Chinese Revolution in 1949, remains indelibly imprinted on Chinese mass consciousness, with the aforementioned national sovereignty exalted above any other factor in the life of the nation as a result.

Whatever the outcome of the US presidential election on November 6 is, events in Beijing on November 8 will undoubtedly prove of equal if not more significance for a southern hemisphere that has long suffered as a consequence of the unipolarity enjoyed by Washington.