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Rosa Parks | Nikki Giovanni


She sat back down.


Photo by Unseen Histories




This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said

they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago

Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would

know they were not alone. This is for the Pullman Porters who

helped Thurgood Marshall go south and come back north to fight

the fight that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education because

even though Kansas is west and even though Topeka is the birth-

place of Gwendolyn Brooks, who wrote the powerful “The

Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” it was the

Pullman Porters who whispered to the traveling men both

the Blues Men and the “Race” Men so that they both would

know what was going on. This is for the Pullman Porters who

smiled as if they were happy and laughed like they were tickled

when some folks were around and who silently rejoiced in 1954

when the Supreme Court announced its 9—0 decision that “sepa-

rate is inherently unequal.” This is for the Pullman Porters who

smiled and welcomed a fourteen-year-old boy onto their train in

1955. They noticed his slight limp that he tried to disguise with a

doo-wop walk; they noticed his stutter and probably understood

why his mother wanted him out of Chicago during the summer

when school was out. Fourteen-year-old Black boys with limps

and stutters are apt to try to prove themselves in dangerous ways

when mothers aren’t around to look after them. So this is for the

Pullman Porters who looked over that fourteen-year-old while

the train rolled the reverse of the Blues Highway from Chicago to

St. Louis to Memphis to Mississippi. This is for the men who kept

him safe; and if Emmett Till had been able to stay on a train all

summer he would have maybe grown a bit of a paunch, certainly

lost his hair, probably have worn bifocals and bounced his grand-

children on his knee telling them about his summer riding the

rails. But he had to get off the train. And ended up in Money,

Mississippi. And was horribly, brutally, inexcusably, and unac-

ceptably murdered. This is for the Pullman Porters who, when the

sheriff was trying to get the body secretly buried, got Emmett’s

body on the northbound train, got his body home to Chicago,

where his mother said: I want the world to see what they did

to my boy. And this is for all the mothers who cried. And this is

for all the people who said Never Again. And this is about Rosa

Parks whose feet were not so tired, it had been, after all, an ordi-

nary day, until the bus driver gave her the opportunity to make

history. This is about Mrs. Rosa Parks from Tuskegee, Alabama,

who was also the field secretary of the NAACP. This is about the

moment Rosa Parks shouldered her cross, put her worldly goods

aside, was willing to sacrifice her life, so that that young man in

Money, Mississippi, who had been so well protected by the

Pullman Porters, would not have died in vain. When Mrs. Parks

said “NO” a passionate movement was begun. No longer would

there be a reliance on the law; there was a higher law. When Mrs.

Parks brought that light of hers to expose the evil of the system,

the sun came and rested on her shoulders bringing the heat and

the light of truth. Others would follow Mrs. Parks. Four young

men in Greensboro, North Carolina, would also say No. Great

voices would be raised singing the praises of God and exhorting

us “to forgive those who trespass against us.” But it was the

Pullman Porters who safely got Emmett to his granduncle and it

was Mrs. Rosa Parks who could not stand that death. And in not

being able to stand it. She sat back down.



 

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