Joziah, 6, my grandson, spoke to me on the telephone yesterday to tell me that his teacher earlier in the day gave a class on Rosa Parks, the African American civil rights activist.
The youngster goes to a lovely Roman Catholic primary school five minutes’ walk from his home in the county of Hertfordshire, 30 minutes north of London.
My grandson told me he learnt of the famous incident when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, to a white passenger.
He said he learnt Rosa was born in South America in 1913 but Joziah did not know what year she broke the law on the bus. I told him the event took place on 2 December 1955 when I was 11 years old.
(Trust me, it is not easy to explain to a six-year-old over the phone the difference between being born in the south of America and South America).
The bus kept all the front row seats for white citizens while black citizens had to sit in the rear of the bus. If the front seats were all full, a white citizen could walk down to the black seats where an Afro-American had to give up his or her seat. The quiet bravery of Rosa Parks, aged 42 at the time, inspired many.
By violating Alabama’s segregation laws of white and coloured people, Rosa found herself under arrest. Citizens in the city began a boycott of the buses. National Association of Coloured People took her case to court claiming the arrest was unconstitutional. NAACP won their case after a year.
Rosa had to endure many death threats and lost her job. She continued her work as a civil rights activist, including getting arrested on buses for defying the law.
Joziah, a youngster of Anglo-Caribbean heritage, said to me: “Grandad, if I was on a bus in Alabama, I would have had to sit in the middle of the bus.”
A perceptive child and impressive response. Racist policy in the deep south classified him as coloured and thus confined him to the rear of the bus while his mum would have had to sit in the front of the bus.
A Not Guilty Verdict
I read over the weekend a story in the New York Times. A US jury on Friday found Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white citizen, not guilty of shooting dead two people at an anti-racism protest in Wisconsin, USA in the summer of 2020.
The accused came from a working middle class family from nearby Illinois. He used a military style automatic rifle to kill the two citizens and injure another. It seems the victims were attempting to disarm him. Police allowed Rittenhouse to leave the scene still holding his rifle.
The jury found him not guilty on the murder charges and felonies and the court released him. Rittenhouse said he acted in self-defence.
The killing by a white teenager raised the question in the USA and worldwide: If a poor, black 17-year-old walked the US streets with a rifle and shot dead two citizens and wounded another, would he walk out of the court a free man?
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) made her views known on the importance of civil rights. Sixty-six years have gone by since her protest on the Alabama bus. I wondered how she would have responded to the trial and the outcome last Friday.
Are millions of African Americans still second-class citizens? I think we know the answer to that.