By Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert | What you learned about Rosa Parks in school was a myth. Much of what is known and taught about her is incomplete, distorted, and just plain wrong. Because Rosa Parks was active for sixty years, in the North as well as the South, her story provides a broader and more accurate view of the Black freedom struggle across the twentieth century. Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert show young people how the national fable of Parks and the civil rights movement—celebrated in schools during Black History Month—has warped what we know about Parks and stripped away the power and substance of the movement.
By Jeanne Theoharis | Since John Conyers’ death at the age of ninety on October 27, many have extolled his leadership in Congress on reparations, his indefatigable fight to get a national holiday for Martin Luther King, and his clarion voice for police oversight. But he also should be remembered for ending a decade of suffering for Rosa Parks and her family.
Another legend gone. And more than a legend, she was a force! Novelist, editor, professor, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison died on August 5 at age eighty-eight. Pick any book from her bibliography, and you will be mesmerized by her command of prose, her power to conjure up the ambience and lived-in feeling of Black communities and their heroines and heroes to the finest, vibrant detail. She was Black love, Black resilience, and Black brilliance personified. There won’t be another writer like her.
By Christian Coleman | Do you want to play a game? No, not the one in the Saw movie franchise. Let’s play the word association game. Come now. It’ll be fun! Peanut : Butter. Instagram : Celebrity. Identity politics : Divisive. Wait. Let’s back up. Divisive? That word has been coming up lately when presidential candidates make identity politics a talking point in public discourse. At an LGBT gala in Las Vegas, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate, said identity politics have created a “crisis of belonging,” leading us to get “divided and carved up.” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has criticized identity politics for focusing only on the endgame of diversity—another word with contentious associations and dubious meanings depending on who’s defining it—and neglecting the needs of working people.
By Jeanne Theoharis | At the urging of both E. D. Nixon and Virginia Durr, in the summer of 1955, Parks decided to attend a two-week workshop at the Highlander Folk School entitled “Racial Desegregation: Implementing the Supreme Court Decision.” The Durrs had worked with Nixon on various civil rights cases, and on Nixon’s recommendation, Parks had started sewing for the Durr family, one of Montgomery’s most liberal white families
A Q&A with Mary Frances Berry and Jeanne Theoharis: I wrote this book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, because my editor, reinforced by friends and colleagues after Trump’s election, argued that the public needed reminding of how and why resistance has succeeded and or failed in the past. And I felt I could provide that based on my experience in several movements and through my historical research. Though history does not repeat itself exactly, perhaps we can learn something from history or at least be encouraged.
Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, we honor his legacy. We reached out to some of our authors and staff members to reflect on the impact of his global vision for social justice and his tireless work in the civil rights movement. We share their commemorative responses with you below.
Black History Month is the time that connections need to be made between the ancestors of Black heritage and the living inheritors. As educator Christopher Emdin wrote on our blog, the stories of past battles should never be told as if they are over or conquered. The stories are alive and playing out today. The connections are more powerful when they’re grounded in the context of history. In the spirit of Emdin’s observations, we’re offering a list of recommending reading to bridge the past with the present.
By Jeanne Theoharis: The air was hot and sticky. Surrounded by clergy, Rev. William Barber lambasted the voter suppression that had compromised the 2016 presidential election. “Long before Russia hacked our election, our government was hacked by racism.” Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and the Supreme Court’s 2013 stripping of the Voting Rights Act, Barber explained, twenty-two states had passed new laws making it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote.
Today is International Women’s Day, a global day to honor and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Observed since the early 1900s, it marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year’s campaign theme, #BeBoldForChange, implores us to help build a more inclusive, gender-equal world. It also coincides with the “Day Without a Woman” general strike, organized to bring attention to the inequalities women still face, including lower wages, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. Women in thirty-five countries are participating in the strike.
Donald Trump gets sworn in today as commander in chief. His approval rating speaks to the myriad doubts, concerns, and fears many have about what he and his administration will do during his term in the White House. We reached out to a few of our authors to ask if they wanted to share what they want Trump to know, understand or beware of. On Inauguration Day, we share their responses with you.
By Jeanne Theoharis: While Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are typically associated with the South, both spent a great deal of their lives challenging the racism of the Jim Crow North. Yet this part of their history is repeatedly ignored. Parks described the Detroit she moved to in 1957 as the "Northern promised land that wasn't" and spent the next four decades challenging the segregation and inequality endemic to the city.
2016 is a year that speaks for itself. It’s been a rough and tumultuous one, culminating in a divisive presidential election that has many people afraid of what’s in store for the country once the new administration takes office on January 20. When we’re in need of wisdom and guidance during troubling and unpredictable times ahead, we turn to our authors, who continue to offer their time and insights to give us perspective and commentary on the condition of our world. Our blog, the Broadside, wouldn’t be what it is without them. As always, we’re so grateful to them. We’ll need their thought-provoking essays as we head into 2017. Before the year comes to a close, we would like to share a collection of some of the Broadside’s most-read posts. Happy New Year!
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Jeanne TheoharisOn Friday, the news broke of MSNBC’s silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry’s show and the dismantling of her editorial control. In her courageous letter to staff, she wrote why she was not willing to read the news and “provide cover” for MSNBC this weekend: “Our show was taken—without comment or discussion or notice—in the midst of an election season…I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head…I love our show. I want it back.” MSNBC executives later in the weekend called Harris-Perry “brilliant, intelligent, but challenging and unpredictable” and confirmed they were “parting ways.”
Black History Month is as much about rediscovery as it is about celebration and commemoration. At Beacon Press, the books we publish that cover black history reintroduce us to long-forgotten or hidden historical figures, unearth information previously unknown about prominent black leaders, bring us closer to the struggles and triumphs of African ancestors. In the current age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that compel us to evaluate our country’s progress in racial justice, it’s important to get reacquainted with the steps black forerunners have taken—and their history—so we can see how to step forward. For this year's Black History Month, we're recommending a list of new and older titles offering biographies, histories, memoir, and more.
By Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jeanne Theoharis | This is the second entry of our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. About two months into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, times start to become dangerous for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family. Death threats over the phone are coming in daily to King’s home, most of which Coretta Scott King answers. Aware of his role as a leader, Dr. King turns to his faith for strength and resolve in the face of danger. Sixty years ago today, the danger arrives on his porch in the form of a bomb. This excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom brings us close to the reality of fear Dr. King lived with, and the resilience of the King family.
Today’s theme for University Press Week is Presses in Conversation with Authors. In our entry in the blog tour, our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik interviews Jeanne Theoharis, author of the 2014 NAACP Image Award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, and the politics of race in contemporary America. She is also series editor for a new Beacon Press series, Stride Toward Justice: Confronting Race, Gender & Class in the United States. The series offers progressive voices writing on and at the intersection of race, gender and class and is an urgent response to the injustices of our times and the ideas that hide and sustain them. Theoharis’s coeditor for the series is Melissa Harris-Perry, Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs, the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, and host of Melissa Harris-Perry, which airs weekend mornings on MSNBC.
By Jeanne Theoharis | I wrote The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks to challenge the limited stories and troubled uses of Parks and the movement. There was nothing natural or passive about what Rosa Parks did but rather something fiercely determined. It was not a singular act but part of her larger lifelong history of activism, a string of acts of bus resistance in the years preceding her stand, and a collective uprising following her arrest that led to a mass movement in Montgomery. To the end of her life, Parks believed the struggle for racial justice was not over and she continued to press for more change in the United States.
Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955, for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white passenger. In an excerpt from The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis traces the aftermath of Parks’s arrest and the lead-up to the bus boycott, and shows exactly what was at stake for Parks when she made the decision to let her arrest be used as the rallying point for a new movement.