Rosa Parks In Her Own Words: Exhibition Opening

0 Comment

>>Please welcome the Librarian
of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: Good evening. Good evening. And welcome to the
Library of Congress. It is our pleasure
to have everyone here for a very special night as we open the Library’s
newest exhibition, Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words. It is my honor to
welcome members of Congress including
the members of the Congressional
Black Caucus, members of the Rosa Parks family
who have come to Washington for this special celebration. Can we give them a hand? [ Applause ] We’d also like to welcome the
Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development led
by Ms. Elaine Steele. And that’s another
round of applause. [ Applause ] And photographer Donna
Terek whose photo of Ms. Parks is prominently
displayed and a vital part
of the exhibition. And all of the leaders and staff of the different cultural
institutions across Washington, including Secretary of the
Smithsonian, Dr. Lonnie Bunch. [ Applause ] And the Archivist of the United
States, Mr. David Ferriero. [ Applause ] And our Library guests and
staff and our viewers online, this is being livestreamed
right now. And I have to tell you,
we are radiating with joy and pride tonight
because it is our pleasure to open this beautiful and
compelling new exhibition about one of our country’s most
beloved civil rights icons, Rosa Parks. The collection resonates
strongly with me. After I was sworn in as the 14th
Librarian of Congress in 2016, the very first collection
I was able to see was the Rosa
Parks papers. And Library manuscript
specialist Adrienne Cannon, who is a descendent
of Carter G. Woodson, father of black history,
showed me the collection. And she carefully presented to
me the different photographs and letters and private notes
handwritten by Mrs. Rosa Parks. And Adrienne is here tonight and is the proud curator
of the exhibition. [ Applause ] From the first moment I saw her
family Bible followed by all of her personal letters
and writings, I felt the overwhelming
power of the collection. An example, in one letter
she wrote after the arrest, “I had been pushed around all
my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take
it anymore.” I knew then when I read
those words that we had to share these papers with the
public for a much broader view. And in this wonderful
exhibit, through her own words, the Rosa Parks you will
discover was not always writing for publication or posterity. She was writing in the
moment and for herself. This is not the Rosa Parks
we all met in textbooks or in public service
announcement, but it is the very
complex, the very human, and the very real Rosa Parks. Her powerful story
and her long fight for justice have always
resonated with me. And as the first woman and the
first African American to serve as the Librarian of Congress,
I take special pleasure in having the Rosa Parks
collection housed here — [ Applause ] — housed here in the world’s
largest library side by side with the papers of Frederick
Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Church Terrell,
and Thurgood Marshall. Rosa Parks lived a life
dedicated to equal rights and social justice, and she
helped change the country with the example she set. As a statue of Rosa
Parks stands with pride in the Capitol rotunda,
in this exhibition, you will see her standing tall,
quite literally, as her photos, images of her papers
and videos tower more than 12 feet above you. None of this would have been
possible without the generosity of the Howard G.
Buffett Foundation who made the Rosa
Parks collection a gift to the Library and
to the nation. It all started when Jesse
Holland, a journalist at the time, learned the
collection was stored away in boxes in a warehouse. He wrote a story about it, and
his story was read and seen by Mr. Howard Buffett who
bought the papers and gave them to the Library so that
they could be preserved, scanned, and seen by everyone. Jesse is now a Scholar in
Residence in the Library of Congress’ John
W. Kluge Center. Now, the collection — yeah
sure, that deserves a hand. [ Applause ] The collection comprises
some 10,000 items drawn from both Ms. Parks’
private life and her decades of work for civil rights. It includes photos
and correspondence, handwritten reflections, private
notes during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the struggle
she endured after. Adrienne and our exhibit
director, Mr. David Mandel, and his team have curated
a beautiful gallery that will tell Ms. Parks’ story in her own words
and photographs. So it is our honor to open
the exhibition tomorrow to the general public on
December 5, the 64th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And as part of the
opening, we are releasing — I am a librarian — this
companion book, Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words, written by
the Library’s Susan Reyburn and includes many
of the photographs and documents you will
see in the exhibition. And we are delighted to
be joined by the people from the University of
Georgia Press who worked with the Library’s
publishing office to create this elegant
companion piece. And we are also starting
something new with this exhibition. At the Library of
Congress, for the first time, we are launching a Ask a
Librarian Mobile Research Station within the exhibition, and visitors will have the
opportunity to right there in the exhibit delve more
deeply into subjects, themes, collection materials, and online
research resources related to Mrs. Parks’ life
through direct interaction with a librarian. And before I go, I also have to
acknowledge the generous donors who made this exhibition
possible, the Ford Foundation, the Catherine B.
Reynolds Foundation. And the Reynolds are here. With additional support — oh. [ Applause ] With support from AARP, History, Joyce and Thomas
Moorehead, who are also here. [ Applause ] And the Capital Group. We can’t thank you
enough for your generosity and for your support
of this exhibit. [ Applause ] Now, as the curator,
Adrienne Cannon explained to me the storyteller of this
exhibition is Rosa Parks. It’s her words and her
voice that will be echoing through the gallery as you
walk around the display. It is the full story of
Rosa Parks: The seasoned, lifelong activist and the woman
behind the civil rights icon. [ Applause ] [ Music ]>>And now, we’re
going to find out which of these ladies really is
the incredible Rosa Parks. Will the real Rosa
Parks please stand up? [ Applause ]>>Rosa Parks is often taught
as a sort of meek seamstress who one day sort of accidentally
stumbles into history and refuses to give up
her seat up on the bus, launching the modern
Civil Rights Movement. And that version
taught in schools and oftentimes celebrated
nationally very much distorts and limits who Rosa
Parks actually was. Her activism starts two decades
before her historic bus stand on December 1, 1955 and will
continue for four decades after.>>As far as I can remember, during my lifetime I resisted
the idea of being mistreated and pushed around
because of my race, and I felt that all people
should be free regardless of their color. [ Music ]>>One day when I was about 10, I met a little white boy
named Franklin on the road. He was about my size,
maybe a little bit larger. He said something to me and
he threatened to hit me, balled up his fist as
if to give me a sock. I picked up a brick and
dared him to hit me. He thought better of
the idea and went away. [ Music ] I love that — I
mean, I love that she at 10 she knew the deep
injustice of things. [ Music ]>>Perhaps the case that
guts her the most is a case about a 16-year-old by the
name of Jeremiah Reeves. Jeremiah Reeves was a high
school student, a jazz drummer, and delivered groceries and
started having a relationship with a young white woman. It got found out. She cried rape.>>They actually put him in the
electric chair at Kilby Prison and told him if he
didn’t confess, he would be electrocuted
on the spot. And so he gave this
false confession. So she began writing letters
and trying to organize around blocking that execution,
got Dr. King involved. And it didn’t succeed,
and he was executed. And she would tell me
how devastating that was and how it broke her heart.>>This is a Rosa
Parks letter from 1956. “I cried bitterly that I
would be lynched rather than be run over by them. They could get the
rope ready for me at any time they wanted
to do their lynching. While my neck was
spared of the lynch rope and my body was never riddled by
bullets or dragged by an auto, I felt that I was lynched many
times in mind and spirit.” [ Music ]>>She was a believer that you
had to dissent, that you had to voice your objection
even if you couldn’t see that that would do any good.>>Rosa Parks, like my
mom, has her own definition of who she is, and she
doesn’t let anybody change that definition. We’ll plan for a better world
of tomorrow by giving all of the love, care, and guidance
to our children of today.>>As a child, when you
read about important people, I thought that these
were physical giants, people who spoke a
language that was different from the language that I spoke. And I found that those
were regular people. And so I have always felt that,
you know, a person does not have to be out of this world to accomplish something
extraordinary. [ Music ]>>We must have courage,
determination, to go with the task of becoming
free, not only for ourselves, but for the nation
and the world, cooperate with each other, have
faith in God, and in ourselves. And I just think we
underestimate the kind of courage it took to
stand up to these forces that had silenced and
marginalized black people from the very day we
came to this continent. And yet she was taking them on. I think it was really
an amazing part of her legacy was the
courage, the strength, the bravery that defined
her as a human being.>>I think when we’re involved
in excavating American history and coming to terms
with our real history, I think too often we find that
most history is a sanitized, Madison Avenue version of it. But she’s a lifelong activist. And she represents the
variety of strategies to combat the persistent
racism in the United States. I think it’s important
that we liberate Rosa Parks and liberate ourselves
from the tyranny of this superficial history.>>Hurt, harm, and danger. The dark closet of my mind. So much to remember. And, yes, it’s somewhere in
the dark closet of my mind too. It can’t help but be in the
dark closet of your mind, and you should never forget
there is so much to remember. But I also know that
this exhibit will show that Rosa Parks made a
difference in moving us forward, and move forward we must. Even as we remember the past, we have to look to
a brighter future. [ Music ] [ Applause ] [ Music ]>>Please welcome the
Honorable John Lewis, Representative from Georgia. [ Applause ]>>Rep. John Lewis:
Good evening. You’re a beautiful group. You look good. [ Laughter ] Let me say to the Librarian
of Congress, thank you. I don’t want to cry tonight,
but I may shed some tears. Thank you for opening this place
to have this exhibit in honor of a savior of our
country, our democracy. If it wasn’t for Rosa Parks,
Fred Gray, and Mrs. Gunter and the rest of you, I
don’t know where I would be. I don’t know where
our nation would be. I don’t know where we
would be as a people. This woman, by sitting
down, she encouraged so many of us to stand up. And since then, many of
us have never looked back, and we will continue
to look forward. Fred Gray will tell you,
my friend, my attorney. Fred, you were an
attorney for many of us. You probably had
unbelievable number of clients. People just came, said
we need your help. I grew up in rural Alabama,
about 50 miles from Montgomery, round it off by saying 48
to 50 miles from Montgomery. My father had been a
sharecropper, a tenant farmer. But in 1944 when I
was four years old — and I do remember
when I was four — my father had saved $300. And a man sold him
110 acres of land. We still own that land today. [ Applause ] Growing up outside of
Troy, people lived in fear. We saw the signs saying
“White Only,” “Colored Only.” White boys, colored boys,
white girls, colored girls. Growing up, I was told
by my mother, my father, my grandparents, and
my great grandparents, don’t get in trouble. But Rosa Parks inspired
us to get in trouble. And I’ve been getting
in trouble ever since. [ Applause ] She was saying in effect
when you see something that is not right, not fair,
not just, you have an obligation to say something,
to do something. I met Rosa Parks. My staff prepared a statement,
but I can’t stay with it. [ Laughter ] I’ve been moved by the Spirit. If it hadn’t been for Rosa
Parks, growing up there, I don’t know what would have
happened to so many people. She inspired us to
find a way to get in what I call good
trouble, necessary trouble. I followed the drama of
Fred Gray of Montgomery. I followed your leadership. I followed the words of
Martin Luther King Jr., the actions of Rosa Parks. We were too poor to
have a subscription to the local newspaper,
but my grandfather had one. And when he would finish
reading his newspaper, he would pass it
on to us to read. So I read about you, Reverend
Abernathy, and Rosa Parks. And I kept saying to
myself, if the people in Montgomery can
organize and stand up, we too can stand
up and organize. So there was a little college
about eight or ten miles from our home called Troy State,
now known as Troy University, didn’t admit black students. So I got a chance to
get an application and apply to go to the school. I never heard a word
from the school. So I wrote a letter to Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr — — and told him I
needed his help because I had been
inspired by Rosa Parks. Dr. King wrote me back and sent
me a round trip Greyhound bus ticket and invited me to come
to Montgomery to meet with him. How can I forget it? Fred Gray, you still look
the same way, so young. [ Laughter ] Met me at the Greyhound
bus station and drove me to the First Baptist
Church pastored by the Reverend Ralph Abernathy
and ushered me into the church. And I saw Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Ralph Abernathy
standing behind their desks. And Dr. King said, “Are
you the boy from Troy? Are you John Lewis?” And I said, “Dr. King,
I’m John Robert Lewis.” I gave him my whole name, but you still called
me the boy from Troy. [ Laughter ] And over the years,
I had an opportunity to meet Rosa Parks
and to talk with her. She was so wonderful, so kind,
and she kept saying to each one of us, “You too can
do something.” She inspired us to participate
in the sit-ins, to study the way of peace, the way of love,
to study the philosophy and a discipline of nonviolence. Again, I want to thank you — — Madam Librarian. I want to thank you for what
you’re doing to help educate and sensitize another generation
to stand up, to be brave, to be bold, to be courageous. And if people see something
that is not right, not fair, not just, do something. We cannot afford to be quiet. We live at a time when we
must save our democracy — — save our planet. We must do what Rosa Parks did. When there come a time to
sit in or sit down, do it! Time to stand up, stand up! Come a time to speak up,
speak up and speak out! Come a time to get in the way
or to get in good trouble, necessary trouble, do it. Be brave. Be bold. Be courageous. Rosa Parks believed
as I believe. We have a right to know
what is in the food we eat. We have a right to know what
is in the water we drink, what is in the air we breathe. And each one of us today must
find ways to tell the story of Rosa Parks, one brave woman
with the help of hundreds and thousands have
changed America forever — — to use the way of
peace, the way of love, to follow the teaching of Gandhi
and Martin Luther King Jr. to make our country better and
to help save our little planet. So thank you very much
for being here tonight. And, again, let me thank
the Library of Congress. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Thank you, Congressman Lewis. You are a living icon,
and we owe so much to you. Thank you for being here, and
thank you, thank you, thank you. [ Applause ] And now, we have more
special guests joining us for an extraordinary
discussion on the life and legacy of Rosa Parks. We are joined by Attorney
Fred Gray, who made history by representing Mrs. Parks
after her arrest in Montgomery, and Jane Gunter, who offered
her seat to Ms. Parks on the day of the bus on December 1, 1955. And they will be joined by CBS
new correspondent and the anchor of the Saturday edition
of CBS This Morning, Ms. Michelle Miller, who will
be moderating a discussion. Please welcome Attorney
Fred Gray, Ms. Jane Gunter,
and Michelle Miller. [ Applause ]>>Michelle Miller:
I feel honored and privileged to be here. Madam Librarian, thank you. Thank you all for being here. Thank you, Ms. Gunter, Mr. Gray. When you see this exhibit — — when you see this exhibit — — it shatters the
notion of Rosa Parks as an accidental activist. Finally, that myth of an accidental activist
will go by the way. The history in her own
words will be spoken. The woman the two of
you knew will be known, and part of the reckoning I find with what we see upstairs
is this funny, feisty, incredibly savvy American. You knew her long before 1954. And I want you to describe her
that first moment you met her.>>Fred Gray: Yes, ma’am.>>Michelle Miller: You were. Thank you, sir.>>Fred Gray: I was, but
before I answer that question, thank the Librarian for inviting
me to share this occasion here. I have my wife, Carol, here. Some other relatives, if you just raise your
hand, those who are here. And I also have the president
of the National Bar association that I serve as national
president. President Robinson
is someplace here. And I just want to thank
those persons who have come. And I want to thank
Congressman Lewis. He wanted me to end up filing
a lawsuit so he could go to Troy State, but his parents
were afraid and he was a minor. But we introduced him to Dr.
King, and it introduced him to the movement and the
rest of it’s history. Now, what was your question? [ Laughter ]>>Michelle Miller:
Back to Rosa Parks.>>Fred Gray: Yes.>>Michelle Miller: Back to
that day that you met her, how would you describe her?>>Fred Gray: I had met Rosa
Parks not just on December 1, 1955, but I really first
met her when I was a student at what was then Alabama
State College for Negroes, now Alabama State University. I lived on the west
side of town. Alabama State was on
the east side of town. I was a student trying to
learn how to be a teacher, had already learned
a little something about how to be a preacher. And that’s the biggest things
that black boys in Montgomery, Alabama in the 30s,
40s, and 50s could be. And I found out that Ms.
Parks worked with the NAACP. She also worked with E.D. Nixon,
who was a family friend of ours, who was Mr. Civil Rights. So they were very
much interested in doing whatever it took so that African Americans would
be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as others. I then had to ride the buses. And it was because of
problems we had on the buses, including a man who was killed
as a result of an altercation on the bus, that I decided in
addition to being a preacher and being the teacher, I
was going to be a lawyer. They tell me that
lawyers help people. And I felt that the black people in Montgomery had a
real problem with buses. And so I made a personal
commitment when I was an upper teenager. I was going to finish college, go to somebody’s law
school, become a lawyer. But in order to do that,
I wasn’t going to apply to the University of Alabama,
go someplace else, come back, take the Bar exam, and
destroy everything segregated I could find. While I was thinking
about doing that, I saw Mrs. Parks working doing
what I wanted to try to do, and that was my first beginning. Move forward to some
three or four years later, in 1953 I enrolled in Case
Western Reserve University Law School in Cleveland. Finished in three years, took
the Ohio Bar exam just in case. A month later, I took
the Alabama Bar exam. On September 7, 1954, I
became licensed to practice. Now I’m ready to destroy
everything segregated I could find. [ Applause ] Shortly thereafter. And one of the things
that Mrs. Parks was doing, she was youth director. And one of the young ladies who
was in her youth director course at the NAACP was
Claudette Colvin. Claudette Colvin was
a 15-year-old girl who did what Rosa Parks did
but did it nine months before without the instructions and
without all of the experience which you’ve learned about
that Mrs. Parks had already gone through. But Mrs. Parks, when I opened
my law office, she came in and helped me to get it open. She was worked at a department
store a block and a half from my office, and we
talked about these matters. So when Claudette
Colvin was arrested — and that was my first
civil rights case — but Mrs. Parks was interested. Jo Ann Robinson was interested. E.D. Nixon was interested. And Fred Gray was interested. However, the black
community wasn’t quite ready for the lawsuit that
I wanted to file. But what those people
decided, including Rosa Parks, that we were going to get ready and whenever the next
opportunity presented itself, we would be ready to end up ending the problems
on the buses. That opportunity came on
the 1st of December 1955. After Mrs. Parks and
I had had conferences in my office almost daily for
five days a week telling people if you decide not to give
up your seat on the bus, how should you conduct yourself? We talked about that. We even talked about
it on December 1, 1955. And she knew I was
going out of town. But when I got back, I
found she had been arrested.>>Michelle Miller:
Hold that thought. Hold that thought
just for a second. I want to stop right there. So he set the stage. Here she was. For a year you said she had been
instructed by you on how to act if she’d been arrested,
if she decided that she was going
to take a stand. Mrs. Gunter, you
were 18 years old. You didn’t even live
in Montgomery, Alabama. You lived outside of Montgomery.>>Jane Gunter: I
was in Montgomery and my husband was stationed
at Maxwell Air Force Base.>>Michelle Miller: So you
did not live on the base?>>Jane Gunter: No. We lived on the base.>>Michelle Miller: You
lived on the base with him. How did you come
to be on that bus?>>Jane Gunter: Well, after
we moved to Montgomery, I want to the doctor
at the base and found out I was going to have a baby. And the doctor required
that I do a lot of walking. Every day I would walk to
the city and walk back. I had a coin with me in case
I needed to ride the bus, but I actually did
a lot of walking. And that day I guess
I was tired. I have no idea. Maybe I was just ready to go
home, but I got on the bus and sat on a long seat
behind the driver. And all of a sudden, this
driver stood up, turned around, and just bellowed something
out to somebody down the aisle. And I realized it
was an older woman. Well, she was in her
40s, so that was older. [ Laughter ] So when he did that, let me
have that seat, I just stood up and said, “She can
have my seat.” And when I did that — — a fair skin tall man pushed
his knees into mine and said, “Don’t you dare move.”>>Michelle Miller:
Don’t you dare.>>Jane Gunter: Don’t
you dare move. And Mr. Gray knows that in the
50s women did what men said. Totally different
from today but — [ Laughter ] — men were in charge
of the world. So anyway, that’s what happened. And all of a sudden, well, I sat
back down and got off the bus when the driver said,
“Everyone get off the bus.”>>Michelle Miller:
Did you see her arrest?>>Jane Gunter: No. No, I did not.>>Michelle Miller: So
here you were the –>>Jane Gunter: Great
with child.>>Michelle Miller: Yes.>>Jane Gunter: She’s
sitting right here.>>Michelle Miller:
[Laughs] Her daughter, Jan, is in the audience. Exactly 64 years. Oops. I’m sorry. [ Laughter ] But I think back
because you — people — no one came forward to
tell the story until you. No other person has
admitted being there. Why did it take so long
for your story to come out?>>Jane Gunter: Because
when I got back to the base, I never went back to the city
and I didn’t even know anything that was going on in the city. I had no idea there
was a bus boycott or this man called
Martin Luther King. I had never heard his name. So we came home to Atlanta
and 35 or more years went by of my life, growing a family. And all of a sudden one Sunday
afternoon after church one of my sons was reading on the floor a Life
magazine and he saw a bus. And he said, “Mom, this is
the funniest looking bus.” And I said, “Oh dear.” Sorry. “I was on that bus.” So immediately one of us started
calling to meet Mrs. Parks. And after the third call, Elaine
Steele called back and said, “I’m Elaine Steele,
co-founder of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute. And Mrs. Parks will
be in Atlanta at the C.T. Vivian event, and she would invite
you to her hotel room.” So we went over the —
in fact, they asked me to give my recollection
of that day.>>Michelle Miller:
And you gave it. She didn’t remember you, but
she remembered what happened on the bus.>>Jane Gunter: And she
remembered a tall man. And so when Brenda Davenport
from SCLC was a young — one of the interviewers
— and she said, “Well, I’m here to protect
Ms. Parks, and I’ve got to make sure you’re not lying.”>>Michelle Miller: She wanted
to make sure [inaudible].>>Jane Gunter: Yeah. We’re going to protect
Mrs. Parks. And so in a little while, Mrs.
Parks says, “You were there.”>>Michelle Miller: She
said, “You were there.”>>Jane Gunter: Right.>>Michelle Miller: For those
millennials and X-ennials out there who have a hard
time thinking about a world where a tweet and a
social media blast and news 24 hours seven days a
week, it was a different time in terms of news coverage. Fred Gray, I just want
you to describe it. Rosa Parks and what she did on
December 1st, no one outside of Montgomery really
knew about did they?>>Fred Gray: Nobody
knew about Rosa Parks, or nobody knew about Ms. Gunter.>>Michelle Miller: No, knew about Rosa Parks
on December 1st. They didn’t know about
Rosa Parks on December 5th because the news
did not penetrate, was not put out there
in the same manner.>>Fred Gray: With respect
to Mrs. Parks’ arrest?>>Michelle Miller: Yes. It wasn’t national
news is my point.>>Fred Gray: It
was national news. The Montgomery bus boycott
after we stayed off of the buses on December 5th,
it made the news.>>Michelle Miller: Right.>>Fred Gray: Her arrest
did not make the news until Mr. Nixon leaked the story
to the press that we were going to start a boycott on Monday. And Joe Azbell, the reporter
for the Montgomery Advertiser, ended up running a story. And, really, Mr. Nixon didn’t
tell us he was going to tell it because we were trying to keep
the white people from knowing it but let the black
people know it. But it developed that the best
thing happened was for Mr. Nixon to do what he did with Joe
Azbell, and as a result, it made the front page
on Sunday and Monday that Negroes were going
to boycott the buses, and it helped us to
get a good start.>>Michelle Miller:
Montgomery, Alabama.>>Fred Gray: In
Montgomery, Alabama. But when I talked to Ms.
Parks, after I got back in town on December 1st and she
retained me to represent her, I asked her to tell me about
anybody who did anything on that bus that would
help her in her case. She did not tell me any
person, white nor black, had offered to help
her to do anything. They were there. The officer who had police
power asked her to get up. She politely told him she
wasn’t going to get up. She was not disorderly. And it would have helped her
if we had had some witness on the bus, black or white,
to come to Mrs. Parks’ rescue. But she never told me and
I never subpoenaed anyone to testify on her behalf because
we did not know at the time. We knew white people were on
the buses, and I’m not saying that she was not there at all. And I’m sure that there
were at least ten, more than ten white people because they had
all the seats taken. There were black people on the
bus, but nobody thought enough of Ms. Parks to come
to Mrs. Parks’ rescue. So she was arrested. And the rest is history.>>Michelle Miller: Tell us what
was definitively the signature of what made Mrs. Parks,
not just her arrest but her trial, resonate? It was a tandem act, was it not?>>Fred Gray: No, no. Mrs. Parks had been
working on civil rights for years before December 1st.>>Michelle Miller: I understand
that, but what I’m trying to point out is you made
very clear to me was that people have been
working on the idea of a boycott for some time. The decision to boycott
the night of her trial on December 5th,
that was the impetus. That was the explosion,
was it not?>>Fred Gray: The matter
of staying off of the buses as a result of Mrs. Parks’
arrest did not originate with Mrs. Rosa Parks. She was not the person who was
really moving forward with it. As a matter of fact, when I
met with her in her living room and talked with her,
what we were concerned about then was preparing. There were two things in
my mind that I told her that we would be thinking about. The first thing,
we’ve got to get ready for her trial on December 5th. So don’t worry about it. I’m going to get that ready. I say ultimately we’re going
to have to file a lawsuit. But I also told her, say Jo
Ann Robinson has been talking about asking people to
stay off of the buses because we’ve been having
this problem for a long time. But I said, “Don’t you
worry about that, Ms. Parks. You’ve done your part. But I’m going to talk
to Jo Ann Robinson. I’m going to talk to E.D. Nixon. And we’re going to
see if in addition to your trial taking place,
we will have a protest and people will stay
off of the buses.” I left her house and went to E.D. Nixon’s house
and talked with him. He was willing to
participate in anything. I told him I was going to
Jo Ann Robinson’s house and talk with her. And we talked with her in her
living room from the evening of December 1st to the morning
of December 2nd, and we sat and planned the various
things that had to take place if we’re going to get the
people to stay off the bus. One, we got to get the ministers
because they had more people on Sunday morning than
anyone else and we had to get the message out. We were asking them to stay off
of the bus for only one day, but we wanted them to
stay off of the bus until they could come back
on a nonsegregated basis. But we couldn’t tell them that. So we talked about the one day. But we had to be prepared
that if we were successful, what are we going to do next? Then we said, “Well,
we need somebody to serve as a spokesman.” It was Jo Ann Robinson who suggested my pastor
should serve as spokesman.>>Michelle Miller: And
who was that pastor? And who was that pastor?>>Fred Gray: And that was
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who had just gotten to
town about a year before. Normally, E.D. Nixon, Mr.
Civil Rights, or Rufus Lewis, who was another political
and businessman in the city, would have been the person
to serve in that capacity. But what we were
afraid of, Jo Ann and I, if we used either Nixon
or Lewis, we may lose some of the other supporters. “So let’s get somebody
else,” she said. “I tell you who.” I said, “Who?” She said, “My pastor,
Martin Luther King Jr.” I said, “Well, I met Dr. King. I don’t know him like
you do, but that’s fine.” But I said, Let me give
you two good positions for these other two men. Let’s make E.D. Nixon
the treasurer because he knows A. Philip
Randolph, who is the founder of a Pullman car porters union, and Mr. Nixon was a
Pullman car porter. The other man was Rufus Lewis, who is a former coach
at Alabama State. He was in the political aspect. He wanted to get people
registered to vote. He had a club named the Citizens
Club, and in order to for you to get in that club, you had
to be a registered voter. I said, “Let’s make
Nixon the treasurer, make Rufus Lewis the chairman
of the transportation committee because if it lasts
beyond Monday, we’re going to need somebody.” Well, and I said, “Rufus
Lewis’ wife, Jewel, is co-owner of the largest
funeral home in town, Ross-Clayton Funeral Home. Guess what? They have automobiles. We need automobiles to take
people to and from work. Make him chairman of the
transportation committee, and we’ll have the
transportation solved.” And Jo Ann said, “What I’m going
to do when we get through here, Fred, I’m going to go
over to Alabama State and get some students
and drum up a leaflet. And in this leaflet I’m going to say another black
woman has been arrested. Her trial is going
to be on Monday. Let’s stay off of the
buses as a protest.” That’s what happened,
and the rest is history. And those things that we planned
— and neither one of us — I couldn’t afford — it couldn’t
be afforded that Fred Gray was out here doing all that. I would have gotten
disbarred but I got barred.>>Michelle Miller: And they
tried to — they tried –>>Fred Gray: Jo Ann Robinson
couldn’t afford to do it because she taught
at Alabama State, and they would summarily
fire her. And she got fired later on. The plan, there was a
lot of plans that went into making the bus
boycott what it was. But what inspired Mrs. Parks and
what inspired Jo Ann Robinson and what inspired Dr. Martin
Luther King was the 15-year-old girl Claudette Colvin who
did what Mrs. Parks did nine months before. And we also said if
Claudette could do that, then all of us can
do whatever it takes. And we stayed off of
the buses for 282 days. [ Applause ] Now you know the
rest of the story.>>Michelle Miller: In fact,
Rosa Parks was convicted. Rosa Parks was convicted. And Claudette Colvin’s
case was the case, the one against segregation.>>Fred Gray: All right. Claudette Colvin’s was a — let me take them in
chronological order.>>Michelle Miller: Yes, sir.>>Fred Gray: We’ll
take Rosa Parks’ case.>>Michelle Miller:
Set it straight.>>Fred Gray: She was the
one arrested on December 1st, so my first responsibility
was to see that she was adequately
represented on December 5th. I knew that they were
going to convict her. There was no way in the world
that [inaudible] could end up finding her not guilty. I knew that. So I wasn’t going to waste a
lot of time with the trial. I was going to let
them put their case on, cross examine their witness, raise my constitutional
questions, don’t put on any evidence
because none of them could say that she had acted disorderly,
and see what happened. And what did they do? They convicted her. So on her case, we appealed
it to the circuit court. Then it had to go all the way
up through the Alabama courts and then ultimately to
the U.S. Supreme Court. So that was one case. But if we had gotten
her found not guilty, all that would have happened is
she would have been not guilty, and the city ordinances and state statutes requiring
segregation would have still been on the books. So we had to have
another lawsuit. And that suit was the
case of Browder v. Gayle. Now I get an opportunity to let
our people know at this point in time — and then
this is a couple of days after Dr. King’s house
had been bombed — we need to go ahead
and file this case. And the question is I knew in
my own mind I was not going to use Rosa Parks as a
plaintiff in that case. And I wasn’t going to do it
because if I had done that, her case was up on appeal, and
what the city would have said is that this is a collateral
attack on her appeal case. So let’s let her case go
through the state court system. Let’s get some other good
plaintiffs, and I could think of no better plaintiff than Claudette Colvin,
this young girl. But she was a minor, so her
parents had to be involved. And the result was that we ended
up selecting four other persons, and that was the case
of Browder v. Gayle that ultimately desegregated
the buses. But if Mrs. Parks — if Claudette had not done
what she did on March 2, 1955, it is quite possible that Mrs.
Parks may not have done what she did on December 1st. If she had not been arrested,
there would have been no trial. There would have been no meeting
at Holt Street Baptist Church. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
would not have been introduced to the nation at that time. And the whole history of the Civil Rights Movement
would have been different but for the 15-year-old
girl Claudette Colvin. While we honor Mrs.
Parks here tonight, and if Mrs. Parks was here, I
am sure she would be glad to say that part of her
inspiration along with what she had been doing
for years before was to be able to inspire young girls like
Claudette to do what she did. So we also honor Claudette
Colvin and the plaintiffs in that case as they did in
Montgomery on this past Sunday when they also unveiled
there a statue of Rosa Parks and they honored the
persons in Browder v. Gail. [ Applause ]>>Michelle Miller:
It almost sounds as if because this young woman was
in Rosa Parks’ youth ministry that she inspired a young
woman who then inspired her. It’s a pay it forward moment. Over and over and over again. And here you are 64 years
later, a practicing attorney. Congratulations.>>Fred Gray: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Michelle Miller: I just
want to know how your legacy, Rosa Parks’ legacy,
impacts what is happening in today’s struggle. As Rosa Parks has always
said, the struggle continues, and so I wonder how
this continuum of your legacy informs that.>>Fred Gray: Well, I
don’t know about my legacy, and these historians
will have to decide that. But I know this. I know that at least
two generations of people have been born
who know nothing at all about hardcore segregation. They don’t know about
the problems that we had, and I think if I
will have a legacy. And I think if Mrs. Parks was
here tonight, she’d be happy for all of this that
we’re doing. But I think she would also
want us to say thank you in all of that but to look
at where we are now and see the progress
we have made but even more importantly is
to see what needs to be done to solve the problem so
that all of the people in this country will enjoy all
of the rights and privileges that the majority enjoys. And that has not ended yet. So the struggle continues. I believe she would think. I believe that there
are two major problems that are still facing us that
we need to be serious about. One, this country still has
some serious racial problems. Racism has not been
eliminated in this country. This country has
never really faced up to taking affirmative actions
toward destroying racism. We have chipped at
it a little bit, but we’ve never really
worked on it. So that’s one problem
that needs to be. And if I have a legacy, or
if Mrs. Parks has a legacy, I think she would want us to
complete the task of doing away with racism so that everybody,
regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation,
will be able to enjoy the same
rights and privileges. [ Applause ] I think there is a second point, and that is in this country
there is too much inequality between the majority —
when I think about majority, I think about white people
— and the minorities, and I think about African
Americans and others. The disparity between those two
are so great, and if you just — if you will — and
this is nothing new. The United Negro College — not
the United Negro College Fund, but the National Urban League
has a report they make every year to the President. And what I’m telling you about
this part of it you can find in that annual report.>>Michelle Miller: It’s
the state of black America.>>Fred Gray: Yeah. The five areas that you
measure economics by. African Americans at the
bottom are at the lower part, and whites are at the top. If you take for example in
unemployment we are less than twice less than
where white people are. If you take poverty,
we are three times in worse shape than whites are. And if you take incarceration, we are incarcerated
16 times as whites. So what I’m saying to you is
that inequality needs to end. Those two things, inequality
and racism, nothing new. They have been here
since slavery time, but they are not going to go away unless
somebody does something. If we had done nothing, if
Mrs. Parks had done nothing, if Claudette had done nothing,
it wouldn’t have happened. So then what we need to do,
if you can take what we did in the Civil Rights
Movement, the bus boycott and everything else, number
one, you have to recognize that we still have a problem. Because if you don’t
think we have a problem, then we’re not going
to solve it. Secondly, you’ve got to come up
and prepare and make some plans. Jo Ann and I made the plans and
passed it on to somebody else. You don’t have to try
to execute it all. Pass it to somebody else. And then when you do that, you’ve got to execute
these plans. And these two things
needs to be done, and it needs to start
at the top. It starts at the White House. It should go to the Congress. It should go to the
Supreme Court. It goes to the heads of our CEOs
and our educational institutions to do away with racism and
do away with inequality. That I think is the legacy.>>Michelle Miller:
And, in fact — — Chris Rock, a
comedian of our times, has said that racism is not
a black person’s problem. Racism is a white
person’s problem. And Mrs. Gunter, I look at
you, this beautiful white woman who says she was so
inspired by Mrs. Parks. You met with her. You say she changed your life. How did she?>>Jane Gunter: I didn’t think
about that at the beginning. I was busy growing a family, living life until that
magazine incident. And then we met with
Mrs. Parks and before that meeting was over, Mrs.
Parks said that I was there. And that interview was
done by Marie Ragghianti, Brenda Davenport of SCLC in
Atlanta, and Elaine Steele. So we — they asked me if I
would tell my recollection of the day, and when
I told my recollection of what happened that day. And then Brenda tried
to protect Mrs. Parks. Then Mrs. Parks said, “No. She was there.”>>Michelle Miller:
You’re a missionary. You’re a pastor. You work within the
movement to this day.>>Jane Gunter: To this day. I go to schools and
talk to children about Mrs. Parks
and the bus boycott. And every February all my days
are filled, and I love it. I enjoy it, especially seeing
children learn what really happened from my
eyes, from my eyes.>>Michelle Miller: Do
you see the struggle through the eyes of Mrs. Parks? Do you see this as
your struggle now?>>Jane Gunter: I don’t see it
as a struggle for me at all. I have absolutely no
conflict with red, yellow, black, and white. I work with all kinds of
people, and we’re just people. And any choice sermon would
be about peace and love and kindness and forgiveness.>>Michelle Miller: Forgiveness. Thank you both. [ Applause ] Jane Gunter. Thank you, Fred Gray.>>Fred Gray: Ma’am, may
I mention two things? And I’ll make it short. I referred to this
earlier, and, again, I want to commend this Library for having this exhibit
for Rosa Parks here. But people can’t come from all over the country
and see what’s here. You have museums all over this
country who needs our support. And they are deserving
of that support so that the story can be told
and they will be educated on it. One of those organizations is
located in Tuskegee, Alabama, the Tuskegee Human and Civil
Rights Multicultural Center, also known as the
Tuskegee History Center. Historic Tuskegee, it gives the
movement and the history of all of the people, Native
Americans, European Americans, and African Americans,
under one roof. It also serves as a
permanent memorial for the men in the Tuskegee syphilis study. I represented those men too. And it gives a brief history
of the Civil Rights Movement from slavery time
until the present, showing about five cases
of people from Tuskegee, Alabama files that
are national in scope. We ask for your support, and
if you want to learn some more about it, just let me know. That’s the first thing. The next thing. All of what I have told you
tonight about the movement and more is found in my autobiography,
Bus Ride to Justice. Carol has a copy of
one of them over there. If you want some, we can
make some autographs for you and let you have them. But what I’m saying
is our problem is if our young people don’t
know what has happened and if we don’t educate them on
it, then it will never get done. Thank you very much.>>Michelle Miller: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Fred Gray: And thank you.>>Carla Hayden: Well,
you have seen history in the making, haven’t you? And that’s what we had hoped,
that you would see and hear from people who lived history,
people who appreciate history. And we’ll have some of those
brochures for everybody too. But thank you so much. And we have been joined
by Mr. Marc Morial, Head of the National
Urban League, and so that report
is available as well. [ Applause ] And, sir, you should know
that this exhibit is going to be online so people
everywhere can see everything. We thank all of you
for being here and being part of
this discussion. And now we invite you to go
upstairs and see the exhibit.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *