As I recover from the extreme emotional, historic and meteorological conditions of Inauguration, I find myself reacting with a range of excitement, caution and concern at some of what went down. As my last post criticized the equation of Obama’s Inauguration with Civil Rights Movement victory based on the statements of celebrities and media personalities, this post will do something similar.

That Lincoln Memorial concert was beautiful but troubling. Samuel L. Jackson went before the nation, stood in the footsteps of MLK and misrepresented the struggle for justice when he said:

There have been many foot soldiers in the quest for justice. One was an Alabama department store seamstress. In 1955, tired from her long day of work, she brought that distant hope one step closer by the simple act of refusing to move to the back of the bus. This is what Rosa Parks said: “I did not get on the bus to get arrested. I got on the bus to go home. I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving in. Somehow I felt was was right to stand up to that bus driver. i knew i could have been lynched or beaten when the police came. I chose not to move. I knew i had the strength of my ancestors with me.”

Rosa Parks was not just a seamstress. She was “secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers’ rights and racial equality.” (via Wikipedia)

NPR’s On The Media did an excellent job countering this historical distortion in the following six minute segment which features Duke Divinity School Professor Tim Tyson:

Read a more complete history of Rosa Parks on Wikipedia.

For a full accounting of the quote Jackson pulled, see this excerpt of Parks’s book, Quiet Strength (emphasis added by me)

I did not get on the bus to get arrested; I got on the bus to go home. Getting arrested was one of the worst days in my life. It was not a happy experience. Since I have always been a strong believer in God, I knew that He was with me, and only He could get me through the next step.

I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving in. Somehow I felt that what I did was right by standing up to that bus driver. I did not think about the consequences. I knew that I could have been lynched, manhandled, or beaten when the police came. I chose not to move. When I made that decision, I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me,

There were other people on the bus whom I knew. But when I was arrested, not one of them came to my defense. I felt very much alone. One man who knew me did not even go by my house to tell my husband I had been arrested. Everyone just went on their way.

In jail I felt even more alone. For a moment, as I sat in that little room with bars, before I was moved to a cell with two other women, I felt that I had been deserted. But I did not cry. I said a silent prayer and waited.

Later that evening, to my great relief, I was released. It is strange: after the arrest, I never did reach the breaking point of shedding tears. The next day, I returned to work. It was pouring down rain, so I called a cab. The young man at work was so surprised to see me. He thought I would be too nervous and shaken to go back to work.

Three days later I was found guilty and ordered to pay a ten-dollar fine plus four dollars in court costs. The case was later appealed with the help of one of my attorneys, Fred Gray, and I did not have to pay anything.

It is funny to me how people came to believe that the reason that I did not move from my seat was that my feet were tired. I did not hear this until I moved to Detroit in 1957. My feet were not tired, but I was tired–tired of unfair treatment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of the most excited people in America about this president and can honestly take a big chunk of credit for his election. However, I think these revisions of history do a great disservice not just to the people involved but to all of us who want to keep improving this country. We can’t afford to take the wrong lessons from this moment.

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