Skip to comments.Thomas Sowell: Rosa Parks and History
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.
Sowell should have a prime time TV show. It would be a huge hit. Don't tell CNN or MSNBC.
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.
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.
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.
I seem to recall that the whole Rosa Parks thing was a set-up by some civil rights group. Anybody know anything about this?
Couldn't agree more!
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?
I seem to recall that you're smoking crack.
** 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.
I don't think smokers themselves are excluded from buses, just their lit cigarettes.
A thing to remind the next clown who decries the evils of capitalism and the virtues of "social justice."
Bless Thomas Sowell for his brilliant ability to expose the essential kernel of an issue! These words should be carved in stone somewhere.
Totally great read on history. I knew all this stuff, but had never put it ALTOGETHER. Sowell is great. Doesn't get enough recognition.
How clever of you. If ignorance is bliss, you must be a very happy person.
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."
>>>Sowell should have a prime time TV show.<<<
Thomas Sowell is a good man.