Coloreds Only

Analyzing The Rosa Parks Story (starring Angela Bassett) using different principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

Credit: IMDb

While a young Rosa Parks and her best friend play in the park one day, the two girls observe a man drinking from the “Whites Only” water fountain. This behavior, unfortunately, is the product of the Jim Crow Laws: a set of state and local laws in the 1900s that legalized racial segregation. To make matters worse, the man forces his dog to drink from the “Coloreds Only” water fountain thereafter. The canine, of course, has no choice but to obey his owner. Notwithstanding, it reflects how caucasians continued subjugating African Americans even after slavery was abolished. The Rosa Parks Story touches upon the segregation and discrimination Rosa Parks and other African Americans faced, as well as how the trials and tribulations helped her emerge as an effective civil rights activist.

It goes without saying that Rosa’s grandfather serves as a powerful mentor in her life. He, a slave for half his life, understands firsthand the dehumanizing treatment the African American community received. For this reason, he teaches his granddaughter at a young age that nobody can take away her human value. Likewise, the Church calls for all Christians to respect everybody’s human dignity regardless of their social, economic, and cultural differences. Everybody, at the end of the day, is on equal footing because they are all a part of God’s special creation, not by virtue of personal merit. Catholic Social Teaching principles command the church family to be “universal” as well, the literal definition of being Catholic. Not only does it entail celebrating diversity, but people must lift each other up to reach their fullest potential. I agree with the grandfather’s teaching, because I believe the Lord bestows upon everyone a set of unique talents in addition to a distinct purpose; therefore, defining an individual by merely one trait limits their abilities as human beings.

Rosa exemplifies perfectly these words in her youth. Her peers are also students of color, but nevertheless they feel academically inferior to caucasians. She reassures her classmates that, in spite of how caucasians still proclaim themselves the “dominant race,” African Americans can be successful and equal to them in their own right. What’s more, the civil rights icon carries her grandpappy’s advice with her as Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She goes far above and beyond her job description in more ways than one, teaching children of color how to read, fighting for criminal justice for African American males who committed various crimes, and the like. Ultimately, Rosa does not assume these responsibilities to seek revenge on her light-skinned counterparts. Solidarity was always uppermost in her mind.

Fortunately, the changemaker does not go it alone; her partner-in-crime appears in the form of Raymond Parks. Raymond Parks works as a barber. Rosa is hesitant when she first meets him, making mention of his complexion being much lighter for an African American. Therefore, the coy high school dropout fears that he will treat her with the same level of disrespect as a caucasian individual. The barber turns out to be a charming, personable individual who is enamored by her beauty and intelligence. Additionally, much to her surprise, her future husband does not mind being persistent in winning her affections. His fighting power is nothing out of the ordinary for him, though. He too advocates for equal rights and exhibits passion for social justice, complete with a no-nonsense approach to current events. It is with these key traits that Raymond, parallel to Rosa’s line of thinking, strongly believes that eliminating discrimination in America is only attainable by taking action in the community.

Being silent about injustice is out of the question for him, whereas Rosa Parks believes in quiet strength to dismantle the system by refusing to yield her seat on the bus to a caucasian passenger. Consequently, she gets into good trouble by landing in jail; but, in the long run, remaining inert paves one major way for counteracting racism: the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a form of peaceful civil disobedience in Montgomery, Alabama that lasted 381 days. It was instrumental in elevating African American voices that demanded racial segregation on public transportation, and in any context for that matter, be deemed unconstitutional.

And yet Raymond believes African Americans can never be too careful — especially if somebody as committed to social justice as Rosa is trying to balance it with being an effective changemaker. Moreover, the last thing he wants is for her to be at the center of hatred and danger. Despite the nuances in how Raymond and Rosa respond to injustice, it never gets in the way of them working to achieve the common good. Their marriage, furthermore, is built off of mutual support for one another’s endeavors, from Mr. Parks encouraging his wife to finish her high school diploma to him collecting donations to free the Scottsboro boys: nine African American teenage boys who were falsely accused of raping a caucasian woman in 1931.

Throughout the movie, Rosa Parks has flashbacks from her childhood of injustices she has witnessed. One of them involves her walking past an African American male hanging dead on a tree from being lynched. The occurrence violates Respect for Human Life, which is the most fundamental right of all. God creates every human being to be protected from the moment of conception to death, which explains why everybody is precious in His eyes. Because of the ongoing racism towards African Americans, caucasians portrayed them in a false light to further their own racist agendas; lynching stood the tests of time as a humiliation tactic.

In an almost identical fashion, African American bus riders had to sit in the back of the buses. If they chose not to, the drivers harassed them. The flashback influences her activism by uniting the African American community under the shared “Enough is enough” mentality. It also serves as the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement at large and for allowing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was a Baptist minister at the time) to come into his own, what with him continuing the trail of peaceful resistance breadcrumbs Rosa Parks leaves behind.

Another injustice Rosa sees firsthand as a little girl is during her time at a shoe store. She has her sights set on a particular pair, but the owner tells her that “colored people cannot try things out at the store.” In other words, Rosa was denied the Principle of Rights and Responsibilities. The Principle of Rights and Responsibilities states that every person must have access to the bare necessities of life to sustain themselves. Examples include food, water, and clothes. However, the right to life is the most fundamental for how it enables all other basic human rights to fall into place. Otherwise, a person’s social well-being will be endangered; so will his/her ability to fulfill the plan God has for his/her life.

The unpleasant memory contradicts said Catholic Social Teaching, demonstrating how caucasians believed African Americans were threats to the established social order. As harsh as this reality was to accept, the experience prefigured how she would have to work harder than the opposite race to obtain the same level of human decency, such as how it takes three tries before she finally is granted her right to vote. For this reason, I believe that it is safe to say that the suppression was done to limit her ability to participate in society, too (Call to Family, Community, and Participation), further silencing the African American community and preventing them from seeking the common good.

Thank you for reading,

Avery Danae

❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

This film analysis was originally written for my Catholic Social Justice & Morality class on November 9, 2020.

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