Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"What So Proudly We Hail"

Rosa Parks speaking at Nassau Community College in 1984.

Sometimes I think we've come so far since Rosa Parks refused to budge from her seat on that bus nearly 50 years ago. Other times I think we've got so far to go.

The civil rights pioneer, as I'm sure you are well aware, was buried here in Michigan today.

I had the chance to see Mrs. Parks up close when she came to Nassau Community College in 1984. I was the editor of the campus paper at the time, which allowed me to slip into the event. I'm a history junkie and jumped at the chance to sneak a peek at someone so important.

I was impressed by the complete and total reverence she commanded, especially from the black students who sponsored the event and hung a banner reading "What so proudly we hail" over her head.

Mrs. Parks looked tiny and frail, and completely uncomfortable with the lavish praise being heaped upon her. We tend to think of heroes as big and strapping, drawn to the cheers and attention. Think of the athletes and politicians who are ready to grab the mantle or think they are entitled to it. Mrs. Parks proved that doesn't have to be the case.

I remember that she spoke, but I didn't recall anything that she said that day. She wasn't a particularly polished public speaker.

But that's OK, because we all know that her actions on that Montgomery bus in 1955 spoke louder than any words.

We've come so far that it is hard for me to imagine a world where people are so openly discriminated against. Separate drinking fountains because of someone's color? Are you kidding me?

My baseball-centric thinking often leads me to believe everything was swell once Jackie Robinson stepped in to the field in 1947. But Mrs. Parks' arrest came nearly a decade later, showing that things had not changed that much.

And perhaps its naive to think that things are as good today as I like to hope. Every once in a while something happens that reminds us how much further we have to go.
The infamous Number 7 train to Shea.

You knew this would get back to baseball. I remember the rant from former Braves pitcher John Rocker in Sports Illustrated in 1999.

Rocker derided a trip on the No. 7 train to Shea, saying he might be forced to sit next to assorted types of folks he finds objectionable.

Then he added: "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

Now, I feel no sympathy for any member of the Braves, much less a guy like Rocker. New York is certainly the place he describes -- and that is one its biggest strengths. We celebrate its diversity. I don't think they plunked the United Nations in the city because it has good access to a couple airports. The tragedy is that Rocker didn't understand that, and the loss is his.

I guess it is progress that instead of people telling people Rocker he was right, he was practically run out of the game. I'm not for that, either. You treat stupidity with education, not banishment.

Of course, I think that we New Yorkers are so used to diversity that we forget it is different in other places. It got me in trouble in Missouri. I was assigned to cover Homecoming -- hey, you can't be on the front page every day -- and interviewed the Homecoming king and queen, both of whom were black. I mentioned every thing about them except their race because, I thought, BFD.

Well, I got hauled into the editor's office. I was told that Missouri was a still kind of a Southern state, and in fact it was a big deal that two black students could be elected Homecoming king and queen. I thought it would be an insult to mention their race, they were insulted that I didn't. I was reminded that not every place is like New York. A lot of places have even further to go.

This week I went up in the attic and dug out the clipping from Mrs. Parks' day at Nassau.

I found this quote: "As I stand here today, I hope that as we move into the future, we shall find the freedom to accept one another. Any person of good can bring about positive change."



Tony Hartsfield said...

Great essay. Fitting. Timely. You really have met some icons in our society.

jabair said...

coorect me if i am wrong but as i recall it, Mrs Parks was actually seated the first blacks only seat on the bus immediately behind the whites only section and demanded she give up her seat and she refused....

i think a lot of people were under the impression that she was seated in a whites only seat and thats how the whole issue started... she wasnt breaking the "law of the land" but refused to give up her rights under that "law of the land"

great example of bringing about change without violence by simply holding on to your rights.. as limited as they may be...

jabair said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jabair said...

coorect = corect..

and someone demanded that she give up her seat

sorry guys!!! bad computer day!!!

G-Fafif said...

Tremendous stuff, Dave. Amen. Watching highlights of her funeral and seeing President Clinton speak made me wonder where the current occupant of his old office was. Not in Detroit, apparently.

To be baseball-superficial about your post, where'd you get that picture of the train? It's great! What we now know as the 7 train to Shea was extended to that stop for the World's Fair in 1939 as I understand it. That picture looks like it's from the '60s, or no later than 1979, the last year that the speckles were on the exterior of Shea. Not sure when the various IRTs and BMTs started carrying number designations. The trademark "redbirds," the cars used on the 7 line, were in place, I think, by the late '80s. They're mostly a thing of the past with the MTA now.

As, I hope, is John Rocker.

G-Fafif said...

This may be of interest to me and me alone in this forum, but here's a site that does a nice job of spelling (or counting) out when NYC subway lines began being designated by number:

Apparently the 7 designation was born the same year as Shea. A glance through the "how to get to Shea" portion of two old programs ('64 and '73) finds references to the Flushing train but no mention of a 7. Lots of IRT, IND and BMT but no numbers. By 1981 (randomly plucked out from my box of programs), there are no directions at all. Maybe they figured out if you're at Shea, you know the way. There were no directions in the 2005 program either. I guess "go to" absolves the program of that function.

It's November 3 and I'm already doing this sort of thing. I may not make it to Thanksgiving.

G-Fafif said...

Correction: The 7 train designation was born earlier than 1964 but that was the year the subway system brought everything that had a number under the number umbrella. Still not sure when it became common to refer to what we now know as the 7 train as the 7 train. Something to pursue when not pursuing Billy Wagner.

G-Fafif said...

The Willets Point stop apparently predates the '39 World's Fair. It goes back to 1928.

For more info:

G-Fafif said...

Have been in touch with an NYC transit expert. His take on when the 7 train truly became known as the 7 train (that is when people actually started calling it that):

It wasn't until 1966, just before the BMT and IND completely merged, that numbers were used for the IRT and the BMT Coney Island lines got letters. In 1967, the Chrystie St map formally added letters to the combined BMT/IND lines and numbers to the IRT. Along with the maps and cars, a new standard in station graphics was introduced to try to identify each line consistently. This was met with varied success.

For more on the history of such matters (in case somebody else in the world gives a Pratt's ass):