Deferred, Dreams Won
tired I was, was tired of giving in.
— Rosa Parks
(quoted in Gail Collins, American Women, 2003)
by Gail Collins is witty, well written, and filled with examples of
women’s accomplishments during the last 400 years.
are often depressing. U.S. (and world) history tends to ignore women's
presence, and especially their successes. Women were on the first boats
and the first wagon trains, in the first settlements and the first
explorations. Yet their memories and experiences were not recorded.
also countless stories of women being denied an education, entry into the
work world (even though they were the sole supporters of children), and
recognition for their work.
But the book
contains is a ray of hope as well: the persistence of women as they follow
the path where they have already accomplished so much. Women suffrage.
Universal education. Housing measures. Civil rights. And much more.
notes that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony didn't see the dawn
of women suffrage — but their
did. Countless women who tried to enroll in medical school in the 1870s
didn't get a spot — but their daughters and granddaughters did. Hundreds
of women worked to stop slavery in the U.S. And then, a hundred years
later, women worked to get civil rights laws in place.
dismantles the myth that Rosa Parks simply had a hard day in Montgomery,
Alabama on December 1, 1955 and decided that she wasn't going to move when
the bus driver told her to go to the back of the bus.
Rosa Lee McCauley Parks had been training for that moment since the day
she was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913. Her grandfather was the son of
a white plantation owner and a mixed-blood slave. His parents both died
when he was young, and the overseer beat, starved, and tormented the
orphaned boy. Under her grandfather’s influence, Parks became aware of
facts about black life in the South that many wanted to ignore.
When she was
young, she met a young man who wooed her by telling her about his efforts
to raise money for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black youths who were
sentenced to die in a trumped-up rape case. Their meeting must have been
destiny — he was Raymond Parks, the man who would be her husband and
partner in the struggle for equal rights.
She began by
trying to register to vote in 1943, when only a few dozen blacks in
Montgomery were able to get over the hurdles. She also worked as a
secretary for the NAACP from 1943 to 1956. She went to the Highlander Folk
School in Mississippi, where civil rights organizers were trained. Rosa
Parks wasn’t tired that day in December 1955 — she was ready.
points out that two black teenage girls had been arrested earlier that
year in Montgomery for not giving their seat to white passengers. Local
black women began to organize a bus boycott around their arrests, but male
leaders in Montgomery felt that the teenagers were too socially downscale
to qualify as a proper test.
Parks, a respectable 42-year-old seamstress with white gloves and rimless
glasses, stayed in her seat when the driver threatened to have her
arrested. “You may do that,” she replied.
following Monday, Parks arrived in court with white cuffs and a velvet
hat. A young woman in the crowd shouted, "They've messed with the wrong
one now." She was right.
lasted for more than a year as the blacks of Montgomery stunned the nation
with the depth of their determination. It made Martin Luther King Jr. a
national name. But it wouldn't have happened without Rosa Parks and all of
the women who organized the boycott and kept it alive day after day.
March on Washington occurred in August 1963, Rosa Parks was there; Pauli
Murray, who had arranged the first sit-in at a Washington, D.C.
restaurant, was there; and Daisy Bates, who got the Little Rock Nine
enrolled into an all-white high school, was there — as well as countless
other women who had walked picket lines, marched in demonstrations, and
risk their lives to bring the Civil Rights Act to the eyes of the public.
Nevertheless, all of the speakers on the podium were men.
lone woman on the 19-member planning committee protested, the organizers
threw together a last-minute "Tribute to Women" where A. Philip Randolph
introduced Parks, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, and others as they sat
that many years later E. D. Nixon, Parks’ lawyer, met a woman who told him
that she couldn’t imagine what would have happened if Martin Luther King,
Jr. hadn’t come to Montgomery. “I said, “If Mrs. Parks had got up and
given that white man her seat, you’ve never heard of Rev. King.”
times women were shouted down, ignored, and shunted aside. Countless times
these women got up, continued on their mission, and accomplished their
goal. But they failed to receive the recognition that a male colleague
would have gotten.
gives another example. During World War II, most of the military nurses
stationed in the Philippines were taken as prisoners of war and held with
3,000 American and British civilians captured in Manila. Miraculously,
they were all alive when they released from captivity three years later,
even though many of their fellow prisoners had died of malnutrition or
kept alive largely because of the actions of their leader, Maude Davidson,
during the evacuation, bombardment, and internment. She kept up their
spirits and made sure that they focused on helping their fellow internees.
Physicians who served with Davidson urged that she be awarded the
Distinguished Service Medal. But the male leaders of the Pacific theater
didn't want her success to highlight their losses — and so she was never
honored for her role in keeping the nurses alive.
Nevertheless, her nurses honored her. And the Army Nurse Corps continues
to honor her memory and that of the nurses who served under her during
those trying three years as part of the history that is given to each
nurse who comes into the U.S. Army.
our own dreams and helping others (both male and female) achieve theirs,
we keep alive the memory of the women who came before us and worked for a
better future for all of us — with or without the recognition of those
is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we
can afford not to.
Wright Edelman, The Measure of Our Success (1992)