A Rosa By Any Other Name

Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks. She is credited with giving the civil rights movement a boost, when on December 1, 1955, she took a seat in the Whites only section of a city bus and refused to give up her seat. She was arrested. Martin Luther King, Jr. came and they started the Montgomery Bus Boycotts of 1955. But like the rest of the Black American History you learned in school, that’s not the entire story.

Nine months before Rosa Parks took her ride, a young girl by the name of Claudette Colvin took an identical ride, in the same city, on the same city bus system. She was 15 years old at the time and she refused to move to give up her seat for a white person. She was the first, that year, to challenge the law. Colvin took the bus to high school every day, but on March 2, 1955, a driver ordered her to get up because a white woman did not want to sit near her and she refused. Colvin said she had paid her fare and it was her constitutional right to sit there. She was handcuffed and arrested. In an NPR interview in 2009, she stated, 

“All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily.”

Claudette Colvin

So what makes a 15 year girl take such a stand? It was right after Black History Month and during her classes they were recounting the many injustices they were currently experiencing under Jim Crow laws. She remembers that she couldn’t try on clothes, that she had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of her foot to get a shoe in her size. They had also been discussing heroes, such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. So, armed with a head full of knowledge, she refused to give up her seat. She eventually became one of the four women plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the case that eventually overturned bus segregation laws in Alabama. 

So why is Rosa Parks the story you know? The NAACP, Martin Luther King, Jr., other black leaders and organizations felt that Parks was a better fit to be the face of the boycott. She was a middle class adult who was already known and respected as the secretary of the NAACP.  They had been planning the bus boycott for years and were not willing to let a teenager be the spokesperson, especially after Colvin became pregnant months after her arrest. It was a very calculated decision.

In the end, Colvin was charged with disturbing the peace, violating the segregation law, and assaulting a police officer. She was only convicted, however, of assaulting a police officer. This was done to prevent her from filing an appeal that could challenge segregation. Thus, when Parks was asked to get off the bus in December, she did and was then arrested so the only thing she was charged with was violating the segregation law. 

Also of note is that following Colvin’s arrest, more Black women made a stand: Aurelia S. Browder, 37, arrested on April 29, and Mary Louise Smith, 18, arrested on Oct. 21. Smith’s case was also not widely publicized. At the time she was a housekeeper, who had traveled across town to her client’s home to get money she was owed, only to find the family was not home. So on her ride home, she was frustrated and refused to give her seat to a white person. In a Time magazine article from March 2020, Smith said,

“A lady got on the bus and a man got up for her and wanted me to get up and give up my seat, and that’s what really popped it off, because I was not going to stand for almost a mile or more to get down to my next destination. I was upset. I might have said a bad word at that time because I was angry. I just didn’t feel like it was right.”

Mary Louise Smith

The case: Two months after Parks was arrested four women, Colvin, Browder, Smith and Susie McDonald became the plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle. The lawyers thought it best to file in federal court to avoid the state judiciary stalling the case. This lesson was taught by Viola White, who did what Parks did, but a decade earlier. 

In 1944, at the age of 35, Viola White was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, she was removed from the bus, beaten, and was subsequently arrested. She was found guilty and charged a $10 fine. With the help of civil rights leaders, she filed an appeal against the City of Montgomery. In retaliation the local police kidnapped her teenage duather and sexaully assalted her. During the attack, her daughter had the fortitude to get the officer’s license plate number. Then, after several attempts to get a warrant signed for his arrest, he simply left town and never faced charges. Additionally, when White died ten years later, she still had never had her appeal placed on a court calendar. 

White’s case also helped shape the way Parks was handled, because while she was initially apart of the lawsuit, she was later excluded because it would have given the federal court an opportunity to stall, by saying her case was being handled in the lower courts. Thus, Browder v. Gayle was filed directly in federal court, her attorneys were Fred D. Gray, Charles D. Langford, and Robert L. Carter, who would later argue Brown v. Board of Education

In June 1956, a three judge panel declared the racially segregated buses unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The U. S. Supreme Court upheld Browder v. Gayle in November 1956. And after, over a year of protesting, the bus boycott ended three days after the case was resolved. 

Colvin moved to New York City in 1958 and worked as a nurse until her retirement. She then moved back to Alabama where she lives today and remains friends with Mary Louise Smith who also lives in Montgomery. 

Republicans and their voter suppression

Georgia is not alone in its voter suppression efforts. The Brennan Center for Justice found that 106 bills have been filed by Republicans in 28 states, all in an effort to restrict voting. Alternatively, they also found 406 bills in 35 states that would expand voting access. Back to the suppression, Republicans are seeking to: limit voting by mail, add new voter ID requirements, make it more difficult to register voters, and provide more leeway to purge voters. 

Georgia and Arizona are some of the worst offenders. Most of Georgia was covered last week. So, what is Arizona up to? Because most Arizonans opt to receive an early ballot in the mail, one bill would have abolished the state’s early-voting list. This was walked back but that legislator is now pushing notarization for early ballots. Another bill would allow voters to receive ballots by mail, but bar them from mailing them back. Arizona’s not done; there are bills that would change the way the electoral college award votes. Currently, Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes are awarded to the winner of the popular vote, a new bill would divide up the electors by congressional districts and instead of awarding two at-large electors to the winner, the legislature would assign them to its preferred candidate. But wait there’s more; another proposal would allow the legislature to simply override the voters and allow legislators to overturn the certification of presidential electors with a simple majority vote at any time before the inauguration. 

These states highlight the importance of local elections. It is fine that states like Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan can turn federally blue by popular vote, but if it is locally red, you get voter suppression laws and efforts to deny the votes of millions of its citizens. 

Let’s Talk Border Wall

One of Biden’s first executive orders was stopping construction of the border wall. Stopping construction permanently, however, requires more than a signature. For one reason, the majority of the land on the Texas border is privately owned. The government was in the process of enacting eminent-domain. Under the Trump administration over 200 eminent-domain lawsuits were filed against property owners from Laredo to Brownsville, with 60 lawsuits filed between Biden’s election and his inauguration. 

Currently, government lawyers have withdrawn their request in some cases but many cases are pending, some with hearings set in March 2021. Many landowners are in several stages of the eminent domain process, and most of the them fought the government claims to their land. In some instances, the wall has already been built on the land with pending lawsuits, so the government doesn’t actually own the land. 

There is currently $2.7 billion earmarked for the border wall and under law the money must be used to build parts of a border barrier system. For some perspective, construction for the border fence started under George W. Bush was continued under President Obama’s administration, even though they didn’t actively support it. The barrier system does not, however, have to be an actual wall, it can be roads, lighting, virtual sensors, etc. However, there is skepticism, because under the Obama administration, they continued the fence that Bush started. Time will tell what Biden does, but for now the construction has stopped. 

Impeachment the Sequel

Today starts the second impeachment of former President Trump. All indicators are that Republicans will acquit as it will require 17 Senators to find Trump guilty. And Republicans are very resistant to hold Trump accountable for his actions. 

As a quick review, In 2020, Trump was impeached by the House because he withheld military aid from Ukraine in an effort to blackmail its president into manufacturing evidence against Joe Biden. The Senate acquitted him. Today, the impeachment trial begins because in 2021, Trump incited a mob to attack Congress to steal a presidential election. The Senate is expected to acquit him.

So why do it? It is still important to make a record of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It is also important to record the votes of each member of Congress. Then it is up the voters to hold them accountable for that decision. So, while no one believes the Senate will convict Trump, some are more optimist than others. 

“The political world is already witnessing demonstrations of Trump’s ebbing impunity within his own party. Ten Republicans voted in the House to impeach. Five Republicans voted in the Senate to proceed with the trial. Two-thirds of the House caucus rejected Trump’s urgings to remove Representative Liz Cheney from leadership for her vote to impeach. Republicans, sadly, are not willing to unite to repudiate Trump. But they are not uniting to exonerate him either.”

David Frum, Atlantic staff writer, Impeachment Is Working-Just not as the Framers Expected

Vanilla Fight

Currently, there are 100 proposed class-action suits in federal courts across the U.S. focused on one thing: vanilla flavoring. The hot button issue: Can you call it vanilla if there are no vanilla beans?

Plaintiffs argue that food manufacturers are lying to consumers when they say products are made with vanilla when they contain no vanilla beans. The companies, McDonald’s, Webman Food Markets, Trader Joes, and Choanbi argue customers aren’t really expecting actual vanilla bean in their products, as long as it tastes like vanilla. 

While food lawsuits are not unusual, the vanilla lawsuits are different in both specificity and sheer number. In 2017 there were 33 cases over “all natural” and in 2018, 23 lawsuits claiming food packages weren’t full enough. Most food cases are either dismissed or settled. 

More than you wanted to know about vanilla: Vanilla comes from beans found in the pods of a tropical orchid. It is grown in Madagascar and few other countries. Because it’s so expensive (pure vanilla extract ranges from $100-$200 a gallon), manufacturers use “natural flavor” derived from plants. Natural vanilla flavors are often made from wood pulp or by using fermentation technology.  Yum!

Do you care if vanilla is actually vanilla?