For Inez, Johnnie, and Jo Ann: The Unsung (S)heroes of the Civil Rights Movement2/25/2013
Each year in America we dedicate February to Black History Month. During this time, our children are told the stories of Dr. Martin Luther ...
Each year in America we dedicate February to Black History Month. During this time, our children are told the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and many of the other prolific figures in the modern Civil Rights Movement. We celebrate these champions for our rights and equality (as we should), but tend to give very little thought to the other people who were there in the trenches, working alongside the Martins and Rosas to make things happen. There are many “unsung” heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, many of them women.
Today, I would like to take a moment and pay homage to some of these figures as well.
How many of us have ever heard the name Jo Ann Robinson? Robinson was an educator in Montgomery, AL in the 1950’s. She taught English at Alabama State College (now my alma mater, Alabama State University), and was a member of the Women’s Political Council and later the Montgomery Improvement Association. Ms. Robinson was an activist in many political causes of the day, but it was her role in launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott that made her the (s)hero we should be celebrating today.
Upon notification of Mrs. Parks’ arrest, Robinson spent the night in the basement of one of the campus buildings, mimeographing 35,000 handbills that were to be disseminated to Montgomery’s Black community. These handbills were how the community was able to learn so quickly of Parks’ arrest and the subsequent boycott of the buses. Robinson made sure to inform as many people as possible of the boycott, and aided in prolonging the duration of the event far past the initial one day that it had been planned by organizing transportation to the boycotters. In 1960 Ms. Robinson left Montgomery but remained active in political causes aimed at the betterment of treatment for women and Blacks. She died in 1992.
I had the fortune to meet Mrs. Carr before her 2008 death, as she attended an event in her honor at ASU. Meeting her was one of the greatest thrills of my life, especially to talk with her and hear her speak so earnestly about her experiences and her hopes for (and thoughts on) the current generation of young Black people. She was a person who never lost her fire or spirit, and she understood the importance of remaining vigilant, even long after the Movement had ended.
The final (s)hero I would like to speak on is someone who is very close to my heart. I met Ms. Inez J. Baskin in 2006 when I was assigned to complete an oral history of her life story. Ms. Baskin is best known for being the first person of any color to report on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and was later retained as a stringer for Jet magazine where she reported on the many happenings in the area. Her efforts were the first of many that launched Montgomery onto the national radar, and made the entire nation stand up and take notice of what was happening in the South. She shared with me stories of heartbreak and terror, as well as those of the many victories she bore witness to along the way.
Ms. Baskin also became a mentor to me, and I can recall her accepting me into her family of “children”. I learned much from the woman, who, after giving up her life of journalism, established herself as a speaker, activist and philanthropist. She taught and fellowshipped with me and others, letting her love of young people shine. Her saucy personality and infectious smile allowed her to reach dozens of young people like myself, instilling within us the wherewithal to create our own future, instead of simply “coloring inside of the lines”. When Ms. Baskin died in 2007, the world lost a great voice and light, and I miss her still today. I know that I am definitely a better person for having met her.
These stories are just a few of the many that could and should be explored. Black history extends beyond slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, and includes so many more than the 10-15 figures we are taught about each February. Ours is a rich and full story of tragedy and triumph, and it is one that shows how uniquely wonderful our culture and our community are. This is my effort to pay homage to just a few of those wonderful people who gave up so much to ensure that my life is the comfortable and wonderful thing that it is today – I want others to know their names. I feel that we owe them at least that much.
Gone but Not Forgotten: Vivian Malone Jones
The Future of Black History: Looking for Young Black Leaders
Yes, Black History Month is Still Necessary
Pictured: Jo Ann Robinson
Kioshana LaCount is a 20-something professional hailing from the Deep South (Alabama). She makes a living in assisting young people in obtaining the skills that they need to become responsible, productive citizens, and in her free time she writes, crafts, and advocates. Feel free to contact her at Kioshana.firstname.lastname@example.org.