Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Thomas Sowell: Rosa Parks and History
http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/thomassowell/2005/10/27/173033.html ^

Posted on 10/27/2005 10:55:50 AM PDT by Shade2

Rosa Parks and history Oct 27, 2005 by Thomas Sowell

The death of Rosa Parks has reminded us of her place in history, as the black woman whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, in accordance with the Jim Crow laws of Alabama, became the spark that ignited the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Most people do not know the rest of the story, however. Why was there racially segregated seating on public transportation in the first place? "Racism" some will say -- and there was certainly plenty of racism in the South, going back for centuries. But racially segregated seating on streetcars and buses in the South did not go back for centuries.

Far from existing from time immemorial, as many have assumed, racially segregated seating in public transportation began in the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Those who see government as the solution to social problems may be surprised to learn that it was government which created this problem. Many, if not most, municipal transit systems were privately owned in the 19th century and the private owners of these systems had no incentive to segregate the races.

These owners may have been racists themselves but they were in business to make a profit -- and you don't make a profit by alienating a lot of your customers. There was not enough market demand for Jim Crow seating on municipal transit to bring it about.

It was politics that segregated the races because the incentives of the political process are different from the incentives of the economic process. Both blacks and whites spent money to ride the buses but, after the disenfranchisement of black voters in the late 19th and early 20th century, only whites counted in the political process.

It was not necessary for an overwhelming majority of the white voters to demand racial segregation. If some did and the others didn't care, that was sufficient politically, because what blacks wanted did not count politically after they lost the vote.

The incentives of the economic system and the incentives of the political system were not only different, they clashed. Private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies in the South lobbied against the Jim Crow laws while these laws were being written, challenged them in the courts after the laws were passed, and then dragged their feet in enforcing those laws after they were upheld by the courts.

These tactics delayed the enforcement of Jim Crow seating laws for years in some places. Then company employees began to be arrested for not enforcing such laws and at least one president of a streetcar company was threatened with jail if he didn't comply.

None of this resistance was based on a desire for civil rights for blacks. It was based on a fear of losing money if racial segregation caused black customers to use public transportation less often than they would have in the absence of this affront.

Just as it was not necessary for an overwhelming majority of whites to demand racial segregation through the political system to bring it about, so it was not necessary for an overwhelming majority of blacks to stop riding the streetcars, buses and trains in order to provide incentives for the owners of these transportation systems to feel the loss of money if some blacks used public transportation less than they would have otherwise.

People who decry the fact that businesses are in business "just to make money" seldom understand the implications of what they are saying. You make money by doing what other people want, not what you want.

Black people's money was just as good as white people's money, even though that was not the case when it came to votes.

Initially, segregation meant that whites could not sit in the black section of a bus any more than blacks could sit in the white section. But whites who were forced to stand when there were still empty seats in the black section objected. That's when the rule was imposed that blacks had to give up their seats to whites.

Legal sophistries by judges "interpreted" the 14th Amendment's requirement of equal treatment out of existence. Judicial activism can go in any direction.

That's when Rosa Parks came in, after more than half a century of political chicanery and judicial fraud.


TOPICS: Government
KEYWORDS: jimcrow; rosaparks; sowell; thomassowell
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-79 next last
Interesting read.
1 posted on 10/27/2005 10:55:50 AM PDT by Shade2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Shade2

Sowell should have a prime time TV show. It would be a huge hit. Don't tell CNN or MSNBC.


2 posted on 10/27/2005 10:59:37 AM PDT by 1Old Pro
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
Yeah, making money knows NO color.

It makes sense that GOVERNMENT created racism.
3 posted on 10/27/2005 11:04:30 AM PDT by nmh (Intelligent people recognize Intelligent Design (God).)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
Excellent article.

In one of his books, I forget which one exactly, Eugene Genovese pointed out that the turn-of-the-century union movement in Atlanta resulted in racism and poverty.

White tradesmen were enraged that black freedmen and their children were charging less for skilled labor than the whites used to charge when they alone were free tradesmen.

They banded together in guilds and unions and restricted trades jobs to union members. The unions were, of course, all white.

Thousands and thousands of skilled black tradesmen who were making a good living were thrown out of work almost overnight and were reduced to poverty.

Many left Georgia for points north and this was part of the reason for the phenomenon known as the Black Diaspora.

4 posted on 10/27/2005 11:11:52 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Shade2

Note also that Jim Crow laws are a perfect example of ..... Ta da da da da ... democracy in action. There were more white voters than black voters, and many white voters had skewed views of race relations. The Southern politicians simply reflected the views of their (white) voters.

A Republic places limits on the power of Government.


5 posted on 10/27/2005 11:13:13 AM PDT by Mack the knife
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
This is an important part of Southern history that is little-known. Immediately after the Civil War southern states imposed the Black Codes, but Union occupation authorities repealed them. During this time interracial commerce grew rapidly - trains were often integrated, for example. It was only when segregationists got control of southern governments after Reconstruction that Jim Crow - the Black Codes v2.0 - was imposed, prohibiting integration. Business was on its way to helping blacks advance and people get along before the government stepped in and, as it typically does, imposed the preferences of some on all.
6 posted on 10/27/2005 11:15:56 AM PDT by untenured (http://futureuncertain.blogspot.com)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: nmh
Well racism is ultimately just one form of rent-seeking.

Just like government, and unions and burglary and pretty much any other activity which seeks to gain something for nothing through either force or fraud.

7 posted on 10/27/2005 11:16:35 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Shade2

I seem to recall that the whole Rosa Parks thing was a set-up by some civil rights group. Anybody know anything about this?


8 posted on 10/27/2005 11:18:03 AM PDT by ozzymandus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wideawake

Couldn't agree more!


9 posted on 10/27/2005 11:18:17 AM PDT by nmh (Intelligent people recognize Intelligent Design (God).)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

Yes, indeed;
An interesting read.

One thing I would like to know:
The other day there was a post saying that Miss Parks wasn't the 'hero' I thought she was.... That she was an employee of a civil rights group and the whole thing was a staged event by the organization from the beginning.

I hope that is not true, but I'd like to know for sure.

Anybody have real knowledge about this?


10 posted on 10/27/2005 11:18:45 AM PDT by LegendHasIt
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
These days smokers aren't allowed on buses by law.

Sowell's argument applies to us today. There are always second-class citizens. We sometimes just don't notice who they are.

(And, if any Freeper wants to whine "I don't want those bleeping smokers smelling up my bus" just remember what some white Southerners said not so long ago....
11 posted on 10/27/2005 11:19:21 AM PDT by cgbg (Boxer and Feinstein confuse the constitution with Mao's Little Red Book.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ozzymandus

I seem to recall that you're smoking crack.


12 posted on 10/27/2005 11:21:24 AM PDT by Extremely Extreme Extremist (Harmful or Fatal if Swallowed)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Shade2

** You make money by doing what other people want, not what you want. **

Great concept, that is completely lost by the Left.

They think if I make a buck, it's because I stole it from some poor soul who had no choice in the matter.


13 posted on 10/27/2005 11:22:16 AM PDT by Sometimes A River (Serving on a Meals-on-Wheels program is NOT a qualification for a SC nominee. Call your Senators!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: cgbg

I don't think smokers themselves are excluded from buses, just their lit cigarettes.


14 posted on 10/27/2005 11:23:15 AM PDT by Sometimes A River (Serving on a Meals-on-Wheels program is NOT a qualification for a SC nominee. Call your Senators!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
Black people's money was just as good as white people's money, even though that was not the case when it came to votes.

A thing to remind the next clown who decries the evils of capitalism and the virtues of "social justice."

15 posted on 10/27/2005 11:25:43 AM PDT by Billthedrill
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
People who decry the fact that businesses are in business "just to make money" seldom understand the implications of what they are saying. You make money by doing what other people want, not what you want.

Bless Thomas Sowell for his brilliant ability to expose the essential kernel of an issue! These words should be carved in stone somewhere.

16 posted on 10/27/2005 11:26:38 AM PDT by TChris ("The central issue is America's credibility and will to prevail" - Goh Chok Tong)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Shade2

Totally great read on history. I knew all this stuff, but had never put it ALTOGETHER. Sowell is great. Doesn't get enough recognition.


17 posted on 10/27/2005 11:31:18 AM PDT by RobbyS ( CHIRHO)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Extremely Extreme Extremist

How clever of you. If ignorance is bliss, you must be a very happy person.


18 posted on 10/27/2005 11:32:25 AM PDT by ozzymandus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: ozzymandus
Calling it a set-up isn't right.

The picture that most of us have of Rosa Parks is that of typical African-American woman of the time who was dragged off to jail for being the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a bus.

In reality, she was far from typical, but was very politically active - she was a secretary for the local branch of the NAACP and affiliated with the Highlander Folk School (a political activist group).

Also, she was not arrested - she was fined that day and was liable to arrest afterwards for nonpayment of the fine.

And she was not the first. Plenty of black people had refused to abide by the ridiculousness of the seating policy in Birmingham - however, she was the first one who fit the profile the SCLC was looking for. She was young, female, well-educated, happily married, gainfully employed and active in her local church and civic organizations.

So the use of Rosa Parks as the test case was a carefully managed, media-savvy campaign and not the spontaneous mass movement it was made out to be.

But it was hardly a "set-up."

19 posted on 10/27/2005 11:34:21 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: 1Old Pro

>>>Sowell should have a prime time TV show.<<<

Thomas Sowell is a good man.


20 posted on 10/27/2005 11:34:21 AM PDT by PhilipFreneau ("The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." -- Psalms 14:1, 53:1)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: untenured
Yes. Excellent points.

I think Jim Crow was actually worse than slavery in a way.

21 posted on 10/27/2005 11:35:47 AM PDT by tallhappy (Juntos Podemos!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: cgbg

You win the melodramatic post of the day award.


22 posted on 10/27/2005 11:35:49 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: wideawake

Sounds like a set up to me.


23 posted on 10/27/2005 11:37:07 AM PDT by garyhope
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
Thomas Sowell is usually great, but he has fallen sway to the MSM and the politically correct in his use of language.
These Jim Crow laws were the invention of only one political party, and we all know the name of that Party -- dare I say "Democrat Party". All white people in America did not create nor subscribe to these laws. These laws and social practices were not found in States where Republicans were in control. Only the people of Southern States under the control of the Democrat Party had Jim Crow laws. This point should have been made very clear, but unfortunately, if Sowell had made it clear, then I am sure many newspapers would not have printed the article. As Ann Coulter often says, "the elephant in the room' was ignored.
24 posted on 10/27/2005 11:38:11 AM PDT by Sipicaknobius (sipicaknobius)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wideawake

Well, a "carefully managed, media-savvy campaign" sounds like a set-up to me. Not trying to argue, I just wanted to establish the facts. For that, I get called a crack smoker. Some people just want to talk sh*t.


25 posted on 10/27/2005 11:39:58 AM PDT by ozzymandus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: tallhappy

"I think Jim Crow was actually worse than slavery in a way."

I suppose it could be argued Jim Crow was worse in this way: Under slavery, the slave owner had an interest in his slave, if only for the slave's economic value. Under Jim Crow, neither the white population nor the governments in the Southern States had any interest in the African American population whatsoever.


26 posted on 10/27/2005 11:43:16 AM PDT by popdonnelly
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: ozzymandus

Well that's you opinion. It has never been proven and she has always held that she didn't get on that bus to get arrested.


27 posted on 10/27/2005 11:46:33 AM PDT by Shade2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: ozzymandus
I seem to recall that the whole Rosa Parks thing was a set-up by some civil rights group. Anybody know anything about this?

She was set up by the communist party, and did not do it on the spur of the moment. Like Cindy planning to chain her self to a fence.

28 posted on 10/27/2005 11:48:29 AM PDT by Mark was here (How can they be called "Homeless" if their home is a field?.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Mrs Mark

So what if it was a set-up? Seems to me like there was good reason for it, if that in fact is what it was.


29 posted on 10/27/2005 11:53:07 AM PDT by gingerky
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: garyhope; ozzymandus
A set-up is when you carefully manipulate circumstances in order to trick an unsuspecting person into crossing the line.

Rosa Parks didn't trick anyone. She knew she would be fined for not moving, but she didn't want to move. As a result, the Birmingham police did what they did routinely - followed the law and ticketed her.

She didn't trick the cops into doing something illegal.

30 posted on 10/27/2005 11:54:17 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: Mrs Mark

Damn communists. Without them, blacks would still have to give up their seats to whites. And maybe we could have our own lunch counters, bathrooms, water fountains, universities...

/major pi$$ed off sarc


31 posted on 10/27/2005 11:54:29 AM PDT by dmz
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: wideawake; mhking; rdb3

Good point.


32 posted on 10/27/2005 11:57:06 AM PDT by Shade2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 30 | View Replies]

To: wideawake

Thank you for your post.


33 posted on 10/27/2005 11:59:38 AM PDT by gingerky
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 30 | View Replies]

To: Shade2

Great article.


34 posted on 10/27/2005 12:01:35 PM PDT by Sam Cree (absolute reality - Miami)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Mrs Mark

I disagree with you that it was a "set up" by the Communist party. I think the event was pre-orchastrated for effect- but not by the Communists. I disagree that Civil rights groups of the 1960s were based in Communism. Today many of them are-but not in the 1960's.IMO-No matter- things in this country needed to be changed.


35 posted on 10/27/2005 12:02:24 PM PDT by Diva Betsy Ross (Code pink stinks)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: Shade2; Mrs Mark
It seems unlikely that she planned to get arrested that day, since she wasn't arrested. She was issued a desk appearance ticket for disorderly conduct.

The bus incident happened on December 1, 1955. She was not arrested for non-appearance and booked until mid-February 1956.

Also, she did not sit down in a "white seat." The bus she was on only had a moveable card that the bus driver would move from row to row - blacks were supposed to sit behind the card, wherever it happened to be placed.

When she got on the bus that day she sat behind the card, just as she was expected to do. What the bus driver did was move the card behind her, signalling that the white section had expanded and that she would have to get up and move to another seat.

If there had been one less random white passenger that day, she would have spent her entire bus ride in full compliance with Jim Crow.

36 posted on 10/27/2005 12:03:14 PM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 27 | View Replies]

To: Temple Owl
I never knew this

The incentives of the economic system and the incentives of the political system were not only different, they clashed. Private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies in the South lobbied against the Jim Crow laws while these laws were being written, challenged them in the courts after the laws were passed, and then dragged their feet in enforcing those laws after they were upheld by the courts.

These tactics delayed the enforcement of Jim Crow seating laws for years in some places. Then company employees began to be arrested for not enforcing such laws and at least one president of a streetcar company was threatened with jail if he didn't comply.


37 posted on 10/27/2005 12:03:32 PM PDT by Tribune7
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: nmh
It makes sense that GOVERNMENT created racism.

And it continues to fight it by devising new schemes restoring racial preferences in public universities.

38 posted on 10/27/2005 12:05:10 PM PDT by Dan Evans
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: cgbg
These days smokers aren't allowed on buses by law.

People who smoke are allowed on buses and are treated no differently than anyone else.

39 posted on 10/27/2005 12:06:50 PM PDT by Tribune7
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Shade2

Well, at least the blacks got to ride when the smoke had cleared; today's disenfranchised, cigarette smokers, got kicked clear off the bus. :>)


40 posted on 10/27/2005 12:07:07 PM PDT by Old Professer (Fix the problem, not the blame!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Diva Betsy Ross
The civil rights movement was deeply implicated with Communism from the 1940s to the 1960s. It's an undeniable fact of history.

One of the reasons why segregation lasted so long was because people who otherwise objected to it did not want to associate with Communist front groups like the ACLU and the Highlander Folk School.

My father was involved in the civil rights movement in Biloxi in the late 1950s and he was frequently accosted by Communist recruiters at various meetings. It was an open secret that certain leaders in the civil rights movement like Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte and Bayard Rustin were ardent Stalinists.

41 posted on 10/27/2005 12:09:21 PM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 35 | View Replies]

To: cgbg
That is silly-smokers are not legally prevented from riding buses... people can not smoke on buses. Those two things are NOT the same thing.
42 posted on 10/27/2005 12:09:30 PM PDT by Diva Betsy Ross (Code pink stinks)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: LegendHasIt

Remember this. Rosa Parks intentionally disobeyed an unjust law and in doing so advance the cause of freedom and equality under the law.

Yes, it was a planned event. This does not belittle the event in anyway. Instead it shows the courage of people who knew the potential consequences of their actions and stood firm on the side of right anyway.


43 posted on 10/27/2005 12:09:43 PM PDT by dpa5923 (Small minds talk about people, normal minds talk about events, great minds talk about ideas.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Sipicaknobius
Ann Coulter once wrote that the Democrats have always been the party of racial segregation. They were once for discrimination against blacks, but today they are for discrimination against whites.
44 posted on 10/27/2005 12:11:23 PM PDT by Dan Evans
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 24 | View Replies]

To: Shade2
It was an interesting read, by an interesting man, who will be chastised, no doubt, for writing it.



45 posted on 10/27/2005 12:14:52 PM PDT by G.Mason (Now that we are no longer Miered, will it be long before someone is fired?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: nmh
It makes sense that GOVERNMENT created racism.

I don't think it's correct to say that Government created racism. But racists certainly used Government to promote their evil intentions.

Sowell's insight here is wonderful. We lose track of history and of the driving forces behind it when we listen only to the media. Both the state legislature and the courts were used to promote injustice. The saga continues in other areas today.

Socialists want the Government to run everything, with the idea that that is going to remove injustice. It will only empower injustice. Free market economic forces would have prevented the discrimination on the buses.

46 posted on 10/27/2005 12:16:21 PM PDT by Rocky (Air America: Robbing the poor to feed the Left)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: dmz
The fact is, the civil rights movement would have been a lot more palatable to a lot more Americans a lot sooner if the leaders of the civil rights movement had not compromised their integrity and message by associating with Communists and giving Communists prominent roles in the movement.

Paul Robeson was prominently featured as a key leader of the civil rights movement, even though he was a card-carrying member of the American Communist Party, openly praised Stalin in speech after speech, and went on a singing tour of the Soviet Union in 1949 where he gave long anti-American tirades to the foreign press.

No well-meaning American would want to show up to a rally that featured such a vile individual, let alone join an organization he belonged to.

Martin Luther King was the first civil rights leader to realize that persuading white churchgoers to support the movement on Christian grounds would be far more effective than pursuing the support of Communist revolution that many civil rights leaders advocated from 1930-1960.

47 posted on 10/27/2005 12:22:25 PM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 31 | View Replies]

To: dpa5923

Remember this. Rosa Parks intentionally disobeyed an unjust law and in doing so advance the cause of freedom and equality under the law.

Yes, it was a planned event. This does not belittle the event in anyway. Instead it shows the courage of people who knew the potential consequences of their actions and stood firm on the side of right anyway.

how does that relate to Lawrence v. Texas? sounds like a similar situation, in which a crime was set-up to get the case into courts because they believed they were on the side of what was right.


48 posted on 10/27/2005 12:24:59 PM PDT by absolootezer0 ("My God, why have you forsaken us.. no wait, its the liberals that have forsaken you... my bad")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 43 | View Replies]

To: wideawake

I meant to communicate that not all people who were involved with , or worked toward Civil Rights were Communists. I am sure that there were communists who saw a weakness in our society that they could exploit (being unequal laws and such), but not all of the leaders of civil rights groups were Communists.


49 posted on 10/27/2005 12:30:53 PM PDT by Diva Betsy Ross (Code pink stinks)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 41 | View Replies]

To: LegendHasIt

"...and the whole thing was a staged event by the organization from the beginning. "

Not that It matters now,

I saw an program on PBS about Civil Rights Era and yes it was staged and Parks was a member of the NAACP. IIRC.

She wasn't just a simple citizen as proclaimed.


50 posted on 10/27/2005 12:54:48 PM PDT by RedMonqey (Life is hard. It's even harder when you're stupid.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-79 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson