Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Help: Rosa Parks - A Voice of the "Help"

For such a short month, February is jam-packed full of days devoted to love, freedom, and change: Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, and African American History Month are just to name a few. I find it fitting that the initial kick off for our book club was in February and that we chose The Help as our first book, a story about change, leadership, freedom, love, friendship, and inadvertently, infertility.

While reading The Help, I often found myself marveling at the bravery portrayed by Aibilene, Minny, and the other black maids who were willing to come forth and tell their stories to Miss Skeeter. The Civil Rights Movement was met with such controversy and violence even though the activists were desperately trying to get their message out peacefully with sit-ins and non-violent demonstrations. These were frightening times for anyone who sought change: just thinking about the idea of changing Jackson, Mississippi would make Aibilene jump in fright when the phone would ring while sitting in the quiet of her own home, her sanctuary. These women were living a life so devoid of freedom and power and they found comfort and support with each other, the children and babies they raised, and with role models such as Rosa Parks.


I think we all know her story: Rosa Parks got on a crowded bus and was told to move so that white people could sit down instead. She refused and was arrested and from that point on, she became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and forever a part of our history books. But there is a lot more to know about Rosa:

- Rosa was home schooled until age 11 before she attended school with other students. Soon, she had to quit school to care for her sick grandmother. She finally obtained that coveted high school diploma at age 20 through the encouragement of her DH of one year, Raymond Parks.

- Rosa was an activist early on as she and her DH raised money for the defense of the “Scottsboro Boys”, a group of black men who were falsely accused of raping two white women.

- In 1944, she took a job working at Maxwell Air Force Base where segregation was not allowed due to its being a federally owned area. Rosa was able to experience a life of equality for the first time – she stated, “You might just say Maxwell opened my eyes up.”

- During the summer of 1955, Rosa attended the Highlander Folk School, a center that was set up to educate the black community about the rights of workers and racial equality. During this time, she was working for and sponsored by a politically liberal couple named Clifford and Virginia Durr. It was Virginia who first hugged Rosa when she was released from jail after her infamous arrest.

- Rosa had already had a run in with James F. Blake, the same bus driver who had her arrested 13 years earlier, when he drove off leaving her behind to walk home in the rain after forcing her to get off the bus and reenter from the rear.

- Many people have misconceptions about the reason why Rosa didn’t want to get up from her bus seat. She was tired, but not in the literal sense as she wrote in her autobiography:

“I was not tired physically, or no more than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move. Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it.”

I feel like this particular quote could be coming from Minny, Aibilene, or any of the other maids once they decided enough was enough and began to share their stories with Miss Skeeter in an effort to break free and speak the truth, and maybe/hopefully bring about that “change” Miss Skeeter asked Aibilene about at the very beginning of this beautiful story.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this information, Nancy! I love the quote, especially the way she defines "tired."

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  2. I would really love to read her autobiography. Maybe in the future...?

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  3. I just learned much more about her through your post than I'd ever known. I agree with Courtney; I'll have to pick it up someday.

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