Edna Griffin and Rosa Parks held nation accountable
By Judith Stanford Miller, M.Ed., M.A.
(This article was first published on Student News Net, Sept. 22, 2017, ID #8945)
Sept. 22, 2017 – Two African American women – Edna Griffin in Des Moines, Iowa at a lunch counter in 1948 and Rosa Parks on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 – stood up for their civil rights by quietly sitting at a lunch counter and on a bus respectively. In doing so, they held the nation accountable and influenced American history.
One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary
Emancipation Proclamation. The final Emancipation Proclamation was issued a few months later on Jan. 1, 1863. The National Archives summarizes what President Lincoln proclaimed in the document. On Aug. 23, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, challenged the nation to live up to the promises made in the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Often called the Rosa Parks of Iowa, Edna’s action for equality in 1948 occurred seven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white passenger. Both peaceful protests by these brave women led to sit-ins and boycotts and ultimately, practices of discrimination based on race being declared unconstitutional.
Edna served as a member of the Women’s Army Corps at Fort Des Moines in Iowa during World War II. She and her husband moved to Des Moines after the war. The fact that stores still discriminated against black people in 1948 made her indignant.
On a hot July day in 1948, three years after WWII ended, Edna, two friends, and her one-year old daughter went to Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines where they bought batteries and then sat at the lunch counter to order ice cream sodas. The waitress told them the store did not have the equipment to serve colored people. They began periodic and peaceful sit-ins at the drug store and filed a lawsuit against Maurice Katz, the store owner. She won her case and was awarded $1 in damages. Edna died in 2000 at the age of 91. Her legacy lives on.
In July 2017, Student News Net visited the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids where an exhibit is devoted to Edna and the July 1948 event at Katz Drug Store. The Katz Drug Store lunch counter has been recreated as the exhibit. Krystal Gladden, museum educator, eloquently told Edna’s story.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was riding the bus home from her job as a seamstress. She was sitting in the assigned seats for black people in the back of the bus.
But the bus driver told her to give her seat to a white passenger. When she refused, she was arrested.
Rosa’s act of peaceful defiance was the spark that ignited a bus boycott by the black community in Montgomery. They refused to ride city buses, making arrangements with friends and neighbors to get back and forth to work. The boycott lasted about one year. Combined with other court cases challenging discriminatory practices by cities, the boycott ended when the city of Montgomery was told they could no longer discriminate against black people on public transportation.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks collaborated in Montgomery on their fight for equal rights. Dr. King became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Rosa Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1957. For many years, she worked for Congressman John Conyers as his secretary. Rosa died in 2005 at the age of 92. Her legacy lives on.
President Lincoln ran for president because he felt so strongly that slavery should be abolished and did not want to see it spread to new states entering the Union. President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War, announcing on Sept. 22, 1862:
“That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” (President Abraham Lincoln, preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, September 22, 1862)
From the National Archives
The National Archives explains the Emancipation Proclamation as follows:
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.
The original Emancipation Proclamation document of January 1, 1863, is in the National Archives in Washington, DC. With the text covering five pages the document was originally tied with narrow red and blue ribbons, which were attached to the signature page by a wafered impression of the seal of the United States. Most of the ribbon remains; parts of the seal are still decipherable, but other parts have worn off.
Edna Griffin and Rosa Parks are both inspirational role models for generations living today.
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