Looking back through our very varied responses to our question about Gender Economics, I started to ask the age old question “how did we get here?”, ‘here’ being the “where each of us stand at this moment in time in terms of gender economics”

The debate and the evidence alongside it takes us back to the very first time we encountered each other.

Irrespective of which belief system you have, on this very first interaction something happened that set us on a path that has shaped the gender divide that has taken place since then.

We can ponder about it. Was it strength, size, colour, gender, the task in hand, genetic pre-disposition, fear, choice etc?

Historians clearly point us to early settlements where patriarchal civilisations existed and where an ongoing battle of the sexes began that continues to this day.

Yet we have evidence throughout history of the actions of individuals, groups and movements who have rallied against this and the injustices that not only concern Gender, but in search of a just and humane civilisation where all are equal.

I am keen for our pre-conference debate to look at some of the people who have rallied against these early footsteps and in particular the sacrifices they made and the relative freedoms that are enjoyed as a direct result of their determination and selflessness.

On the run up to conference and in line with this debate we are going to take a look at some of the great Individuals of our times who have created a legacy which we must not ignore or forget and work tirelessly to achieve the world they envisaged we would all live in.

We will also do this in the memory of those whose sacrifices have gone unnoticed along the way. Surely each and every one of us has have encountered individuals in whose footsteps we would like to follow:

We will start with Abraham Lincoln.

 

Abraham Lincoln was born Feb 12, 1809, in Hardin Country, Kentucky. He had a modest upbringing. His parents from Virginia were neither wealthy nor well known. At an early age, Abraham lost his mother and his early years were spent working in manual labour.

His thirst for knowledge however, led him to become a respected lawyer with excellent debating skills and a considered sense of humour famously saying:

“If I was two-faced would I be wearing this one.”?

He married Mary Todd and had four children, three of whom died in childhood.

Abraham lived in times when slavery was rife and he believed this was fundamentally wrong.

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

He had a great interest in Public issues and in 1854 he was elected to the House of Repesentatives and he tried to gain nomination for the Senate in 1858. Although he lost this election, his debating skills caused him to become well known within the Republican Party. In particular, during this campaign he gave one of his best-remembered speeches:

“A House divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the House to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, ‘til it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South (House Divided)

In this House divided speech, Lincoln gave a prophetic utterance to the potential for slavery to divide the nation.

The reputation he gained on the campaign trail caused him to be elected as Republican nominee for President in 1860.

The election of Lincoln as President in 1861 sparked the South to succeed from the North. Southern independence sentiment had been growing for many years and the election of a president opposed to slavery was the final straw. However, Lincoln resolutely opposed the breakaway of the South and so this led to the American Civil War. The Civil War was much more costly than many people anticipated and at times Lincoln appeared to be losing the support of the general population. But, he managed to keep the Republican Party together, stifling dissent by promoting the various Republican factions into the cabinet. Lincoln oversaw many of the military aspects of the war and promoted the general Ulysses S. Grant to oversee the northern forces.

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued his memorable Emancipation Proclamation that declared the freedom of slaves within the Confederacy.

“… all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons,…” (Emancipation Proclamation)

Eventually, after four years of attrition, the Federal forces secured the surrender of the defeated south. Lincoln had saved the Union and also brought to head the end of slavery.

Dedicating the ceremony at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, Lincoln declared:

“that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln was tragically assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, an actor on, April 14, 1865. He is widely regarded as one of America’s most influential and important presidents. As well as saving the union, Lincoln was viewed as embodying the ideals of honesty and integrity.

 

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…. “

– Abraham Lincoln

 

Our second selection and in no particular order is Rosa Parks.

Biography Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913 – 2005) was an African American civil rights activist and seamstress whom the U.S. Congress dubbed the “Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement”.

Parks is famous for her refusal on December 1, 1955 to obey bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. Her subsequent arrest and trial for this act of civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the organizers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement. Her role in American history earned her an iconic status in American culture, and her actions have left an enduring legacy for civil rights movements around the world.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

After a day at work at Montgomery Fair department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus at around 6 p.m., Thursday, December 1, 1955, in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the “colored” section, which was near the middle of the bus and directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers. Initially, she had not noticed that the bus driver was the same man, James F. Blake, who had left her in the rain in 1943. As the bus traveled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded.

 

In 1900, Montgomery had passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating passengers by race. Conductors were given the power to assign seats to accomplish that purpose; however, no passengers would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available. Over time and by custom, however, Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move whenever there were no white only seats left.

So, following standard practice, bus driver Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there were two or three men standing, and thus moved the “colored” section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit. Years later, in recalling the events of the day, Parks said, “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”

By Parks’ account, Blake said, “Y’all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.” Three of them complied. Parks said, “The driver wanted us to stand up, the four of us. We didn’t move at the beginning, but he says, ‘Let me have these seats.’ And the other three people moved, but I didn’t.” The black man sitting next to her gave up his seat. Parks moved, but toward the window seat; she did not get up to move to the newly repositioned colored section .Blake then said, “Why don’t you stand up?” Parks responded, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” Blake called the police to arrest Parks. When recalling the incident for Eyes on the Prize, a 1987 public television series on the Civil Rights Movement, Parks said, “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.'”

During a 1956 radio interview with Sydney Rogers in West Oakland several months after her arrest, when asked why she had decided not to vacate her bus seat, Parks said, “I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama.”

She also detailed her motivation in her autobiography, My Story

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

When Parks refused to give up her seat, a police officer arrested her. As the officer took her away, she recalled that she asked, “Why do you push us around?” The officer’s response as she remembered it was, “I don’t know, but the law’s the law, and you’re under arrest.” She later said, “I only knew that, as I was being arrested, that it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind.”

Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code, even though she technically had not taken up a white-only seat—she had been in a colored section. E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr bailed Parks out of jail the evening of December 1.

That evening, Nixon conferred with Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson about Parks’ case. Robinson, a member of the Women’s Political Council (WPC), stayed up all night mimeographing over 35,000 handbills announcing a bus boycott. The Women’s Political Council was the first group to officially endorse the boycott.

On Sunday, December 4, 1955, plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott were announced at black churches in the area, and a front-page article in The Montgomery Advertiser helped spread the word. At a church rally that night, attendees unanimously agreed to continue the boycott until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected, until black drivers were hired, and until seating in the middle of the bus was handled on a first-come basis.

Four days later, Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. The trial lasted 30 minutes. Parks was found guilty and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs. Parks appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. In a 1992 interview with National Public Radio’s Lynn Neary, Parks recalled:

“ I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became. ”

On Monday, December 5, 1955, after the success of the one-day boycott, a group of 16 to 18 people gathered at the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church to discuss boycott strategies. The group agreed that a new organization was needed to lead the boycott effort if it were to continue. Rev. Ralph David Abernathy suggested the name “Montgomery Improvement Association” (MIA). The name was adopted, and the MIA was formed. Its members elected as their president a relative newcomer to Montgomery, a young and mostly unknown minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That Monday night, 50 leaders of the African American community gathered to discuss the proper actions to be taken in response to Parks’ arrest. E.D. Nixon said, “My God, look what segregation has put in my hands!” Parks was the ideal plaintiff for a test case against city and state segregation laws. While the 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, unwed and pregnant, had been deemed unacceptable to be the center of a civil rights mobilization, King stated that, “Mrs. Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery.” Parks was securely married and employed, possessed a quiet and dignified demeanor, and was politically savvy.

The day of Parks’ trial — Monday, December 5, 1955 — the WPC distributed the 35,000 leaflets. The handbill read, “We are…asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial . . . You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday.”

It rained that day, but the black community persevered in their boycott. Some rode in carpools, while others traveled in black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, 10 cents. Most of the remainder of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. In the end, the boycott lasted for 382 days. Dozens of public buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus transit company’s finances, until the law requiring segregation on public buses was lifted.

Some segregationists retaliated with terrorism. Black churches were burned or dynamited. Martin Luther King’s home was bombed in the early morning hours of January 30, 1956, and E.D. Nixon’s home was also attacked. However, the black community’s bus boycott marked one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation. It sparked many other protests, and it catapulted King to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.

Through her role in sparking the boycott, Rosa Parks played an important part in internationalizing the awareness of the plight of African Americans and the civil rights struggle. King wrote in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom that Parks’ arrest was the precipitating factor, rather than the cause, of the protest: “The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices…. Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.'”

The Montgomery bus boycott was also the inspiration for the bus boycott in the township of Alexandria, Eastern Cape of South Africa which was one of the key events in the radicalization of the black majority of that country under the leadership of the African National Congress.

 

Rosa Parks After Boycott

After the boycott, Rosa Parks became an icon and leading spokesperson of the civil rights movement in US. Immediately after the boycott, she lost her job in a department store. For many years she worked as a seamstress.

In 1965, she was hired by African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. She worked as his secretary until her retirment in 1988. Conyers remarked of Rosa Parks.

“You treated her with deference because she was so quiet, so serene — just a very special person [CNN,2004]

Awards

Some of the awards Rosa Parks received.

  • She was selected to be one of the people to meet Nelson Mandela on his release from prison in 1994.
  • In 1996, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton
  • In 1997, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest award of Congress.

 

Citation : Pettinger, Tejvan. “Abraham Lincoln “, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net, 1st Feb. 2008

 

Citation : Pettinger, Tejvan.(G+) “People who fought for human rights”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net, 22nd Jan. 2011