The Rosa Parks Story (2002)

 

 

Director:     Julie Dash.

Starring:      Angela Bassett (Rosa Louise McCauley Parks),  Peter Francis James (Raymond Parks),  Tonea Stewart (Johnnie Carr),  Von Coulter (E. D. Nixon),  Dexter King (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.),  Cicely Tyson (Leona Edwards McCauley),  Chard Manzy (Young Rosa),  Sylvester Edwards - Rosa's Grandfather (George Caldwell),  Arresting Officer (Johnnie Carr),  Helen Ingebritsen (Miss Barton),  Tori Jones (Rowena),  Martha B. Knighton (Miss Alice L. White),  Horace Lamar III (Young Sylvester McCauley),  Ronald McCall (Fred Gray),  Timothy Parham (Elijah Banks),  Mike Pniewski (Clifford Durr),  Sonny Shroyer (James F. Blake),  Ron Clinton Smith (Mr. Lester),  Slayton Jefferson Underwood (Sylvester (Adult) -Rosa Park's brother),  Pacey Walker (Fannie),  Susan Williams (Virginia Foster Durr). 

the story of the woman who did not give up her seat for a white man and started the Montgomery bus boycott

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Montgomery, Alabama.  1956.  Rosa Parks sits in church waiting for the press to come.  Her husband tells her that she doesn't have to do the re-enactment of her famous refusal to giver up her seat on the bus to a white person.  She hesitates a bit more and then gets up and is escorted outside to the bus.  The man who drove the bus on that fateful day will drive a reporter and Rosa Park around the block to commemorate the event. 

Flashback.  1924.  Montgomery, Alabama.  Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, established 1892.  Mrs. Leona Edwards McCauley gets off the trolley with her son and her daughter, Rosa Louise McCauley.  This is Rosa's first day at the industrial school.  Mama gives her some advice before releasing her to the school. 

One of the founders of the school, Miss White, a white woman, introduces Rosa to her new classmates.  This is a new experience for Rosa.  This is her first school with desks to write on and glass in the windows.  A girl named Johnnie befriends her and notices that Rosa is from the countryside, because only country girls eat tomato sandwiches. 

The white teacher tells her black students to pass their test papers up to the front.  One girl, named Rowena, tears her paper up.  She says she is too stupid to perform well.  Rowena says:  "I don't know why we're bothering with all this reading and arithmetic, when all we're going to end up doing for jobs is washing somebody's clothes and wiping their babies' snotty noses."    The teacher asks some student to tell Rowena why they study.  Rosa gets up and says:  "We bother so we can be equal to everybody else."  Rowena shoots back:  "We're not equal to everybody else.  We're not equal to white folks."  Rosa responds with:  "I was raised to believe if I put my mind to it, I could do whatever I want in this world.  I was taught (?) no one is better than me.  No man, no woman, black or white."     The teacher supports Rosa by saying:  "If you learn nothing else at Mrs. White's school, may the blessed Lord help you remember what Rosa just taught you." 

1931.  Rosa, wearing a purple sweater, travels with her high school girlfriends on the bus.  A woman tells her that she is going to come over to see her mother real soon.  In the City Barber Shop, Raymond Parks, a light-skinned black man, spouts poetry to his customers as he shaves and cuts their hair.  The news of the day is about the Scottsboro Boys, falsely accused of raping a white woman.  Parks tries to raise money for the accused.  He criticizes the N.A.A.C.P. leaders for beings just a bunch of scared, old men.  The bus stops in front of the barber shop and the girls run under its awning to get out of the rain.  Parks notices the girl in the purple sweater and is impressed.  He sure hopes she will come into the barber shop.   He opens the door and tells the girls to come in and get out of the rain.  They come in.  Parks makes a fuss over Rosa, but she tells her cousin that he's too light-skinned for her tastes. 

Parks lays it on thick about how blacks should be willing to lay down their lives in the struggle to support the Scottsboro boys.  Much of this seems set to impress Rosa.  Parks makes Rosa nervous and she says she has to be getting home.  She runs across the street and into another store.  Parks follows her there and shocks Rosa.  She just wants to run out of that shop as fast as she can and she does so.  Raymond runs over to the cousin to ask for her name.  After some teasing, the cousin tells Raymond the pretty girl's name. 

At home helping to prepare dinner, Rosa sees that Parks has arrived with flowers in his fancy red Studebaker car.  She is so shocked to see him outside that she literally springs back to the middle of the room.  She tells her mother to get rid of that man  -- tell him she's not home.  Parks goes home, but comes right back the next day.  Rosa refuses to see him.  Parks keeps coming everyday and is turned away everyday.

One day mother tells Rosa that she is just "fresh out of patience" with her.  And this time, she lets Raymond come into the house.  Rosa asks what the man said, without realizing that it is Parks standing behind her and not her mother.  Raymond responds:  "He said, it's a good thing gladiolas grow year round."   

Raymond and Rosa are now going out.  Rosa takes him fishing one day.  She has great memories of fishing with her grandfather.  She asks Raymond about his father, which is a sore point for Parks.  His father was so white that many times he could pass for white.  He finally abandoned them.  Then he heard he died falling off a roof.  Rosa kisses him on the forehead.  Then he kisses her on the lips. 

At night on their way home, Raymond gets pulled over by the cops.  Officer 1 says:  "Whose car is this?"  Raymond says:  "Mine."  Officer 1 replies  "You wouldn't be lying to me, would you boy?"  The officers get a call over their radio and have to leave.  Officer 1 says to Raymond:  "Get your ass off the road." 

Rosa is a seamstress at the local Montgomery Fair Department Store.  She reads a headline in the newspaper:  "Two Negro Men Found Dead:  Believed to have been working with 'Scottsboro Boys' Legal Defense Fund."  The headline shocks Rosa because she thinks that may Raymond is one of the dead men.  She calls up a friend of Raymond's and he mentions that Raymond went to see about the Scottsboro Boys.  Rosa is very anxious. 

She sits in the park and sews.  She remembers the time when her brother changed the "whites only" sign around with the "colored only".  The white man gets a drink out of the fountain marked "whites only" then he gives his German Shepherd dog a drink from the "colored only" fountain.  Rosa remembers this incident greatly upsetting her.  When she comes home crying, she finds Raymond in the kitchen with her mother.  She runs over and hugs Raymond hard saying that she thought he was dead.  Raymond apologizes for not keeping her informed.  It looks like he did get some kind of beating when he was away. 

Rosa and Raymond marry.  One very rainy night on her way home, Rosa pays her fare up front, but instead of getting off the bus and then back on through the rear door, she just walks through the bus to the colored section.  The bus driver asks her:  "Hey, what do you think you're doing?"  Rosa says:  "I'm going to Cleveland Avenue."  The bus driver insists that she get off and enter through the rear entrance.  He yells at her and she finally gets up.  But then she sets down next to a white woman in the front.  The white woman gets up saying:  "I'm not going to sit next to her."  The bus driver again tells her to get off.  Rosa finally does, but her umbrella gets caught in the door.  The bus pulls away with the umbrella.  A little ways down the road, the bus driver opens the door and lets the busted umbrella fall on the road.  Rosa decides to walk home in the rain.  She is very upset. 

Rosa comes in all drenched and cold.  She walked five miles in the rain.  She tells her concerned family that she was "put off" the bus.  Rosa says of the buses:  "We are paying to be humiliated.  And it does not make sense."  Raymond asks:  "Since when have these peckerwoods ever made sense?"  Rosa says she will never forget the driver's face. 

Rosa's mother finds an article about the N.A.A.C.P.  One of the board members is none other that the girl who first befriended Rosa at school, Johnnie.  The next day Rosa goes in to see her old friend at a meeting of the N.A.A.C.P.  They are both very glad to see each other.  The board almost immediately puts Rosa to work.   A big name in the N.A.A.C.P. locally is President E. D. Nixon, a union rep for the Pullman porters.   

Johnnie tells Rosa that she has to get registered as a voter.  At home Rosa says she is the N.A.A.C.P. secretary.  Raymond warns her that the police watch the meetings of the N.A.A.C.P.  Rosa tells him not to worry.  She is not one of the leaders of the group.  Rosa also tells him she wants to do this.  Raymond says he can't give his approval for this.  Later she tells Parks that she really needs him to understand that for the first time in her life, she feels she can make a difference for their people.  Raymond is not budging and Rosa is disappointed in him.  She goes to sleep. 

Rosa teaches Sunday School and volunteers at the N.A.A.C.P.  She goes in to register to vote and the white woman there treats her with great disdain.  She asks how many states there are and how many senators from each state.  Rosa answers the two questions correctly.  So the clerk gives her a test sheet.  Rosa notices that the white man behind her has no trouble registering.  And he is not given any test to take that he has to pass before getting registered.  Rosa fills out the test and hands it in and the clerk says she failed.  Rosa wants to know what questions she failed, but the clerk says that is against state policy.  Rosa leaves.  She is going to get on the bus when she sees the driver is the man who put her off the bus that one rainy night, she turns around and walks away. 

Rosa keeps coming back and coming back to register and would always fail.  So now she has Raymond quiz her from a book on American government.  She wants to make sure she knows all the answers to any and all the questions.  She returns again and fills out the test.  The woman looks it over and asks her what is this?  Rosa says that she wrote down all the test questions, as she gave the answers.  If she doesn't pass this time, she wants a lawyer to tell her where she is going wrong.  The white woman is very angry and goes to speak to her supervisor.  The man says they don't want any trouble.  Rosa gets her registration. 

At the office of the N.A.A.C.P., Rosa is introduced to an influential wife couple Clifford and Virginia Durr and Joanne Robinson of the Women's Political Council.  Rosa also learns that a young black girl got arrested for failing to give up her seat to a white man. But she is not the one they can build a case around against the bus company.  A woman comes in and Rosa tries to help her. Her boy, Elijah, needs help.  The fellow has been charged with raping a white girl.  Rosa visits him in jail.  The girl accused Elijah of rape when her parents caught her having sex with the young man.

Rosa tells Raymond that the boy is not guilty of the charge of rape.  She cries about it.  Again Raymond is not understanding of Rosa's feelings.  She asks her husband what if Elijah had been their boy?  Raymond says it never would have happened in the first place:  "I would have made damn sure he knew how the South worked." 

Rosa brings his Sunday school students in to try to get a book from the library.  The white librarian says to the first boy in line that he has to go to his local colored library.  The boy explains that his library doesn't even have the books he needs.  The librarian says that he has to go to his local library and make a formal request for the book to be sent to his local library.   The boy objects to this by saying the process would take far too long.  He finally says:  "Your procedure is unjust and insulting to anyone who knows right from wrong."  A girl is next in line to repeat the process once again.

Rosa tries to console Elijah's mother as she cries and says they are going to kill her boy. 

As Rosa leaves her paying job, the boss asks her to come in on Saturday.  She sees a black boy crying because he cannot try on any of the shoes in Montgomery Fair.  No blacks are allowed to try on shoes.  They have to trace the outline of their shoes they have on and give it to the store clerk in the shoe department.  She remembers back when she first learned of this discriminatory practice. 

Rosa takes the bus home.  Along the way, the bus driver tells Rosa and the two others with her on the bus seat that they need to give up their seats to the white people.  Rosa stays while the two others move.  The bus driver has to come back to ask her:  "Are you going to move?"  "No."    He threatens Rosa with arrest.  She's not moving.  The driver also asks for police backup. The police arrive.  The police tell the bus driver that she's sitting in the colored section.  So the bus driver moves the sign back one row, so now she's sitting the the white section.  Rosa asks defiantly:  "Why do you all push us around?"

Her picture is taken and she is finger-printed.  She keeps asking for a phone call, but they refuse to let her have one.  The women in the jail are shocked to see such a proper woman in the jail.

E.D. Nixon comes over to the house to tell Rosa's mother that Rosa has been arrested.  Raymond comes out and learns the news.  E.D. calls the police department, but they just hang up on him.  So Mr. Nixon calls the Durrs.  Mr. Durr calls the police to see if he can get Rosa out. Soon Rosa is let out of jail. 

Back at home, Raymond is mad about his wife being in jail in the first place and he goes after the N.A.A.C.P.  A phone call alerts E.D. Nixon that Joanne Robinson and others are calling for a bus boycott.  There will be a meeting tomorrow at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  And they want Rosa at the meeting.  Raymond is still unsympathetic to his wife.  She is not happy with Raymond once again. 

At the meeting, there is a lot of disagreement among the ministers and other leaders.  Finally, someone calls for the new minister, Rev. King to speak.  He warns against any division in the black community.

The charge against Rosa is disorderly conduct.   The law clearly states that a colored person in the colored section does not have to give up his or her seat to a white person.  So it was the bus driver violating the law, not Rosa.  E.D. Nixon, Raymond, Rosa and others watch as the bus arrives to pick up passengers.  There are a bunch of black people standing there and the group of onlookers thinks they are going to ride the bus.  But they don't get on the bus!  One old lady tells the bus driver:  "I ain't going to get on, until Jim Crow gets off!"

Rosa goes to court.  Back at home, there is a mass meeting taking place and they want Rosa there.  Johnnie comes over to fetch her.  This makes Raymond mad again and Rosa tells him she won't go if he doesn't want her to."  Raymond tells her to go on and do what she wants to do.  Rosa is upset, but goes to the meeting.  At the meeting she gets a hero's welcome.  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces her this way:  "Ladies and gentlemen.  The heroine of our finest hour, Mrs. Rosa Parks."  There is a great deal of applause for her.  King goes on:  "Just the other day, just last Thursday to be exact, one of Montgomery's finest citizens, not one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens in Montgomery was taken from a bus and carried to jail and arrested because she refused to give up her seat to a white person.  And since it had to happen, I'm so happy it happened to a person like Mrs. Rosa Parks.  Nobody can doubt the boundless outreach of her integrity, the height of her character or the depth of her Christian commitment to the teachings of Jesus."   

Rosa is told by her boss that her position has been eliminated.  He mentions the boycott as the reason.  Some white fellow sees Rosa and says to the other whites in the store:  "Up there!  It's Rosa Parks!"  Rosa walks past a silent group of whites to leave the store. 

At home Raymond hears a lot of people talking outside.  He rushes over to get his shotgun and ammunition.  He loads the shotgun.  The back door opens and Rosa gets the shock of her life when she sees Raymond pointing a shotgun at her.  She tells Raymond that she lost her job.  Raymond tells her that he has lost his job too.  He says:  "Let's just say that it's no secret as to who my wife is."  Raymond seems like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

Rosa remembers back to when she saw a hanged black man in the woods.  Her grandfather took her away from there. 

Raymond gets in line with others waiting for the cars of the carpool.  One young man has no patience with the lateness of the cars of the carpool.  Back home Rosa starts to breakdown too.  She tells her mother that she is losing her husband.  Mother says that Raymond loves her.  Rosa says it was all her fault that this happened.  She even tells her mother that she would take it all back if she could.  But then she says she doesn't know.  Mother tells her that it had to happen because that's the way her daughter is.  She had to take a stand. 

Raymond listens to the group waiting for the carpool.  An old man says his feet are worn out, but he's going to keep on walking as long as he has to.  "My feet maybe tired, but my soul is rested!"  Raymond seems to realize that if these people can support his wife and the cause, he can to.  When he gets home, he tells his wife that he is so lucky to have married her.  He says she brought about change  -- and it's a good change.

Back to the present.    Raymond goes over to blow a kiss to his wife as she sits on the bus. 

 

"Rosa's long and joyful partnership with Raymond Parks continued until his death in 1977."

"In November, 1956, the Supreme Court rules in Alabama that state and city bus segregation policies were unconstitutional."

Washington, D.C., 1999.  President William Clinton says:  "For most of us alive today in a very real sense this journey began 43 years ago, when a woman named Rosa Parks sat down on a bus in Alabama and wouldn't get up.  She's sitting down with the first lady tonight and she may get up or not as she chooses." 

 

An inspiring movie.  And it increased my respect for Ms. Parks.  It was no easy matter to defy the authorities.  Ms. Parks herself would say she didn't do anything really.  But when most of the blacks were even against her staying sitted, in racist Alabama it took a lot of courage.  After all, bus drivers carried weapons on their hips and could put anyone off the bus.  No, sitting down on the bus was not just a simple act.  Rosa paid a big price for her defiance.  She was arrested by the police.  She was fired from her job as a seamstress in a department store.  Her husband Raymond was fired from his job as a barber.  They received hateful phone calls warning them of the terrible things that were going to happen to them.  Raymond had his shotgun and ammunition at the ready in case whites attacked his home.  The tension of the atmosphere created a great strain on the marriage and at one time Rosa thought she was losing her husband and blamed herself for this.  No, it was not an easy thing to do. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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