The Seamstress

It is August, 1994 on Detroit’s west side.  A young black man is in need of drug money.  In her award winning essay “Who Shot Johnny, A day in the life of Black America” attorney and author Debra Dickerson describes the man as “A non-job-having, middle-of-the-day malt-liquor-drinking, crotch- clutching, loud-talking brother with many neglected children born of many forgotten women. He lives in his mother’s basement with furniture rented at an astronomical interest rate, the exact amount of which he does not know. He has a car phone, an $80 monthly cable bill and every possible phone feature but no savings. He steals Social Security numbers from unsuspecting relatives and assumes their identities to acquire large TV sets for which he will never pay.”  Debra Dickerson’s essay can be found in its entirety at:

To satisfy his drug habit the man attacks an 81-year old black woman in her home.  He leaves her with abrasions to her face and chest.  He takes $53 for his trouble, leaving her beaten and in pain.  Later the woman will say of the man, “I pray for this young man and the conditions in our country that have made him this way. Despite the violence and crime in our society, we should not let fear overwhelm us. We must remain strong.”  What kind of a woman prays for the drunken fool who beats and robs her?  Surely she must have been weak and submissive.  Or was she?  Perhaps she was steely in her resolve and wise in her observations.

Around 5:15 p.m. on December 1, 1955, she was strong enough to refuse an order from a Montgomery, Alabama bus driver to give her seat to a white man.  When arrested and ordered to pay a fine of $10 plus $4 in court costs, she was bold enough to refuse, choosing instead to be booked, fingerprinted and put in jail.  With the publicity her case generated a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. organized a boycott of Montgomery city buses.   With one defiant act of a humble seamstress, the civil rights movement in America had begun.

Rosa Parks remained active in the civil rights movement after she and her husband Raymond moved to Detroit in 1957.  She served as a receptionist and office assistant to US Congressman John Conyers, retiring in 1988 at the age of 75.  Rosa passed away at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005.

Montgomery, Alabama was not a pleasant place to be if you were black in 1955.  Rosa’s decision to simply sit and refuse to move took tremendous courage.  Like a man named Gandhi, who had secured independence for India only 8 years earlier, Rosa’s strength was in her quiet, non-violent determination.  The law stating that the first 10 rows on the bus were reserved for whites only was unjust and Rosa knew it.  Virtually everyone in Alabama also knew it.  All it took was one young lady to stand up to the system by simply remaining seated.  Within months the US Supreme Court overturned the Montgomery statute and within years racial discrimination would be legally banished in the United States of America.

Rosa’s lesson for each of us is simple.  When we see injustice we should speak out.  When we witness irresponsible acts of vandalism, crime, or careless disregard for the health and safety of others we should not remain silent.  Most of the time, despite their bold behavior, perpetrators simply need to be verbally reprimanded and they will back down.

Regarding the man who beat and robbed Rosa Parks, Betty DeRamis, then a columnist for the Detroit News, wrote in her opening paragraph on the 1994 incident:  “Some half-drunken fool robbed and roughed up Rosa Parks, bruising a whole branch of American history and punching the freedom struggle in the face.”

To find out more about Rosa Parks I recommend the following link:

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