Blacks of today have failed this heroine of civil rights

October 26, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

Have black folks in 2005 failed Rosa Parks?

Parks died Monday in Detroit. She has been called the "mother of the civil rights movement," and it has been said for years that her refusal to give up a seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man sparked the nonviolent protests that characterized the "modern" civil rights movement.

That's an arguable assertion, at best. James Farmer, who for years was the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, was involved in nonviolent protests, freedom rides and boycotts in the 1940s, years before Parks refused to yield to Alabama's idiotic segregation laws in 1955.

And there were two others. One was a 15-year-old girl, who refused to give up her seat on Montgomery buses before Parks did. The first was Claudette Colvin, who was in high school, courageous but brash and quite pregnant. NAACP officials in Montgomery decided - wisely, it turns out - that Colvin wasn't the person the organization should rally around to challenge segregated busing.

The other was Mary Louise Smith, who was rejected for similar reasons.

But black leaders in Montgomery found the third time was the charm in Parks. Whether she helped ignite the modern civil rights movement or was just a major part of it, the accolades she is drawing are well-deserved.

Those accolades should come with some sober observations, but they probably won't. I have to wonder what Parks would make of the dismaying news that in the city she moved to when she left Montgomery, the adult illiteracy rate is 47 percent.

You read that correctly. Nearly half of the adults in Detroit, a city where blacks make up 82 percent of the population, are functionally illiterate.

When Parks stood tall simply by remaining seated, she probably had no idea that there would be a major American city 50 years later where many black adults were functionally illiterate. One of the goals of the civil rights movement that Parks either jumpstarted or assisted was that opportunities for black Americans would expand.

Because of the efforts of Parks and hundreds, if not thousands, of others, those opportunities did come. Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 10 years after Parks' famous refusal. The federal government since then has funneled billions of dollars into public schools across the country.

Enough money, in other words, so that there's no excuse for Detroit's high rate of adult illiteracy.

It would be one thing if Detroit's illiteracy rate were the worst of it. But you know it isn't.

Dave Bing, a former National Basketball Association all-star who played with the Detroit Pistons, is now the owner of an automobile supply company in that city. He employs 1,400 people. Expected sales for Bing's company for 2005 are $550 million, according to Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley.

Bing was appalled by illiteracy in Detroit and the sorry state of the city's schools. So he teamed with businessman Robert Thompson, who wanted to donate $200 million to build charter schools in Detroit.

Now as I mentioned, Detroit is 82 percent black, which means its elected officials are mainly, if not all, Democrats. And you know how some Democrats, especially black Democrats, feel about things like charter schools, especially if the idea comes from Republicans. (Their leader, President Bush, doesn't like black people, you know.)

The city turned down Thompson's offer. This year, Sharon McPhail, a black member of the Detroit City Council, got together with some other Negroes who must have taken way too many blacker-than-thou pills. They called themselves the Call 'Em Out Coalition and handed out Sambo Sell-Out Awards. One went to Bing.

Calling Bing a Sambo -an old racial epithet that implies laziness and passivity - increased Detroit's literacy rate not one iota. And where was the Call 'Em Out Coalition 11 years ago when some black thug broke into Parks' Detroit home, beat the civil rights heroine and robbed her of $53?

"Do you know who I am?" Parks reportedly asked her attacker before he beat her. The miscreant replied that he did, but simply didn't care.

No Sambo award for this guy. But we do have a black leadership just a-frettin' about whether guys like him get their voting rights restored when they get out of prison.

We do have a black leadership that says black criminals are wrong, immoral but only misguided, and that has launched or tolerated vicious attacks on blacks whose only sin is thinking differently. (You do remember the outrage that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton expressed after Bing was called a Sambo, don't you? Of course you don't.)

And we have a younger generation of blacks with far too many members who don't know what the letters in the NAACP stand for.

Rest in peace, Rosa Parks. Here's hoping that blacks of tomorrow don't fail you as woefully as some of the blacks of today.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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