Poem a Tribute to Legacy of Rosa Parks
ED GORDON, host:
What was Rosa Parks' life like before she became famous? Poet Carole Boston Weatherford reads her poem, "December 1st, 1955: Before Rosa Altered History."
Ms. CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD (Poet): `For Southern belles who scour shops for ball gowns, not mirrored in bridge and garden club circles, the holidays are a blur of invitations. The women flock to Montgomery Fair for alterations, tucks here, gussets there and deep hems. Not even mannequins are a perfect size eight. In the whites-only fitting room, Rosa `Yes, Ma'ams' each gloved lady, then returns to the Singer, dizzy from the social whirl she tastes vicariously through customers bidding her to drape flawed figures with chiffon. Yards of silk, satin, velvet slide between needle and treadle. Beads and sequins, like missed chances, slip through her fingers. Thirty days till New Year's Eve, then five months before cotillion. For a few weeks, empty racks and room to breathe, no giggling debutantes, no gossipy matrons with coffee-stained teeth, cigarette breath and syrupy drawls. Tired of Miss Ann, Rosa anticipates quitting time, the glow of Christmas lights and the long ride home. She removes her thimble, knowing that a hoop skirt can pass through the eye of a needle easier than a colored seamstress can hold a seat on a city bus.'
I wrote this poem because Rosa Parks was a seamstress, and I wanted to enter Rosa Parks' workaday world on the very day that she took her stand on a city bus. She worked at a department store called Montgomery Fair, which was in downtown Montgomery. And I wanted to show her waiting on these customers that very likely discriminated against black women by not even letting them try on dresses in the fitting room, and to show her weariness that day not only with her job but with the status quo and go right up to the point, you know, where she's getting ready to go home and perhaps wondering if she'll be able to have a seat on the bus. Well, she eventually lost her job. There was a lot of pressure to not only fire Rosa Parks but other people who took similar stands and perhaps not as famous as the stand that she took.
GORDON: Carole Boston Weatherford teaches creative writing at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. She's the author of several books, including "Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins."
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