Rosa Parks Essay - Critical Essays

James Haskins


In its episodic structure, Rosa Parks invites an examination of social issues that readers may find riveting. The book is a gold mine of African American history. Cities such as Montgomery, Birmingham, Tuskegee, Mobile, Nashville, Memphis, Charleston, New York City, and Washington, D.C., summon further study on black-white relations before the Great Depression and after World War II. Proscribed issues at the forefront of America’s conscience, such as literacy testing, poll taxes, miscegenation, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens’ Council, and Black Muslims, are treated with sensitive objectivity. Rosa Parks offers readers a glimpse of Julius Rosenwald and his one-room rural schools, the Hampton Institute, Booker T. Washington, and the Tuskegee Institute, as well as celebrated freedom fighters for justice and fairness. Such notable figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Asa Philip Randolph, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Ralph David Abernathy, Douglass L. Wilder, Tom Bradley, Roy Wilkins, John Conyers, Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory, Josephine Baker, and Ralph Bunche are documented as crusaders for equality and fairness. In significant ways, the book offers an insider’s view of such topics as the marketplace and labor policies, parenthood, absent spouses, segregated neighborhoods, voter registration, racial tensions in the South and North, the rights of women, and World War II, including the war itself, its aftermath, and the role of black soldiers.

Rosa Parks is a compendium of the rituals that white people demanded and to which black people adapted or acquiesced. Parks’s narrative voice acquaints readers with an era in which many white people were often mute on civil rights matters, did not shake the hands of black people, refused to address black people by titles or surnames, and became angry when black adults seemed unhappy. For survival and out of their own fears, many African Americans reproved their children soundly in order to protect them from reprisals and often did not seek even “reasonable demands.”