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People Power

Agosto 2014
Al Rosa Parks Museum di Montgomery, Alabama, il pezzo più importante è un vecchio autobus. Seduta su questo mezzo, nel 1955 Rosa Parks rifiutò di alzarsi per cedere il posto ai bianchi. Così nacque l’intero movimento dei diritti civili americani.

di Julian Earwaker

File audio:

Barack Obama sits in Rosa Parks' seat.
Barack Obama sits in Rosa Parks' seat.
Georgette Norman with statue of Rosa Parks.
Georgette Norman with statue of Rosa Parks.

Barack Obama describes her as a person “slight in stature but mighty in courage.” Her example, says the US President, “helped change America.” Who is this remarkable woman? A visit to the city of Montgomery, Alabama, will tell you. Here, in a quiet downtown street, a metal sign marks the bus stop where one woman’s disobedience made history. Her name was Rosa Parks.

SEGREGATION

On December 1st 1955, 42-year-old Parks boarded a city bus to begin her journey home. It was past six o’clock and she was tired after a long day’s work as a seamstress. At that time Alabama, like all states in the Deep South, enforced strict laws of segregation.
As a black woman, Parks was seated in the “coloured” section. As the bus became full, the bus driver moved the “white only” sign further down the bus. He instructed Parks and the other black people sitting alongside her to move from their seats so that white people could sit there. She politely refused.

MLK

“She did the right thing, as opposed to the immediate thing,” says Georgette Norman, Director of the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery. “It is a reminder of how often we are confronted with opportunities to do right, and we choose immediacy instead.”
The bus driver called the police, who arrested Parks. The news quickly spread. A group of activists suggested a bus boycott and local church leaders agreed. They set up the “Montgomery Improvement Association” to organize the boycott. Its leader was a young minister new to town: Martin Luther King. He helped to keep the protest peaceful.

INTIMIDATION

Through the rain and cold, at great personal hardship, the black community and their supporters walked, cycled, hitched rides, and used church and community carpools rather than buses. The protesters faced intimidation and violence: homes and churches were firebombed, boycotters were physically attacked.  
In the meantime Rosa Parks appealed against her fine and conviction for failing to obey the bus driver. In November 1956, the US Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s racial segregation laws, as practiced on the buses in Montgomery, were unconstitutional. After 381 days, the boycott ended. Rosa Parks and her colleagues had won. It gave new energy to the civil rights movement and brought leaders such as Martin Luther King into the spotlight.

AT A PRICE

The personal cost to Rosa Parks was great – she was recognized everywhere she went and it was hard for her and her husband to find work and live an ordinary life. Despite ill health and family tragedy, Parks continued to give talks and to support the struggle for equality. Recognized by many as the “mother of the civil rights movement,” she died, aged 92, on October 24th 2005.
Today, anyone can take a bus journey around the attractive city of Montgomery and choose any seat they want. It’s hard to believe that such a simple act owes so much to just one person.

INTERVIEW

THE BACK OF THE BUS

LANGUAGE LEVEL C1 (ADVANCED)

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

Rosa Parks never planned on becoming famous but that changed on December 1st, 1955, when she took the bus home from her job in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. The white driver ordered her to join other African American passengers at the back of the bus. She refused, and was arrested. The local African American community organized a bus boycott and the civil rights movement was born. Almost 60 years later, she is honoured at the Rosa Parks Memorial Library and Museum in Montgomery. We asked Director Georgette Norman, who was a child in Montgomery in 1955, about the significance of the boycott:

Georgette Norman (African American accent)

People ask me all the time, “What’s the importance of the boycott?” I think what’s really important about it is that Rosa Parks – a woman, humble, quiet – galvanized a people to feel how empowered they really were. They looked at how they were being impacted negatively by their community and their society, and they assumed the responsibility for that change. And they did it with dignity, and they did it with respect. I believe, personally, that it was one of the greatest examples of civic engagement in this country. Martin Luther King came here, beginning to embrace  Gandhian philosophy of non-violence.  Montgomerians were not non-violent, and didn’t really pay much attention. It was, I do believe, personally, that when his house was bombed, and his wife and baby were in the back, and he was notified and came home, and he found this mob at his house, with people holding and carrying stuff that could hurt you, maim you, kill you, and he said, “Put down your weapons and go home!”

TODAY

Martin Luther King was assassinated, at the age of 39, in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. Rosa Parks, on the other hand, died in 2005 at the grand old age of 92. What would they make of race relations in Montgomery today?

Georgette Norman

Very interesting, people ask me all the time, “Georgette, has anything changed here?” And I said, “I am the director of a museum owned by a university I could not attend when I finished high school.” I taught for 20 years as an adjunct at Auburn University at Montgomery. Again, it didn’t exist, but I couldn’t have gone to Auburn at that time. So indeed there have been some changes. The question is: How much of it is cosmetic, OK? When you look at people can ride the bus now, and do all that kind of stuff – the system’s lousy! You can go to the restaurant, sit down, order, but does it make a difference if you don’t have the price of the meal? 


IF YOU GO...

Montgomery is the capital city of Alabama. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is run by Troy University and stands on the corner of Montgomery Street and Molton Street (where Rosa Parks originally made her protest).
Admission costs $7.50. For further information visit:
www.troy.edu/rosaparks  
http://alabama.travel 
www.discoveramerica.com


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Explains

Were in the back. Erano nella parte posteriore della casa. Una bomba scoppiò nel portico della casa di Martin Luther King a Montgomery il 30 gennaio 1956, ma sua moglie e il loro bebè sopravvissero grazie al fatto che si trovavano in un’altra parte della casa al momento dell’attentato.

The system’s lousy! Il sistema fa schifo. Qui Georgette Norman fa riferimento al sistema di trasporto pubblico e non al sistema politico-sociale.  
What would they make of... Che cosa ne penserebbero di... Il phrasal verb to make of significa “pensare di”. Ad esempio: What do you make of that? (che cosa ne pensi?)

If you don’t have the price of a meal. Se non puoi permetterti di mangiare al ristorante. Si usa l’espressione to have the price of (something), letteralmente per dire permettersi (nel senso economico), anche se è più comune usare il verbo to afford.