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"A Ride to NEW Futures with Rosa Parks: Producing Scholarship and Community Art" by Riché Richardson


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"A Ride to NEW Futures with Rosa Parks: Producing Scholarship and Community Art" by Riché Richardson

  1. 1. A Ride to New Futures with Rosa Parks: Producing Public Scholarship and Community Art By Riché Richardson
  2. 2. In dealing with what the human means to scholars as someone who works in an interdisciplinary department of Africana studies in the humanities in fields such as African American literature, gender studies, Southern studies, and black feminism I think and talk a lot about the long history of black dehumanization within the system of Western slavery. I frequently discuss the long history of freedom struggles within the black liberation movement that have been developed to confront subjection within slavery and Jim Crow, along with the lingering manifestations of these systems that have persisted.
  3. 3. Riché Richardson, Age 8, School Day Picture at St. John the Baptist Catholic School, Montgomery, AL, 1979 Because I was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama in the post-civil rights era, the Civil Rights Movement, including the activism of Rosa Parks, is an aspect of this long history of black liberation struggle that has most viscerally impacted my life and work.
  4. 4. Riché Richardson, Age 17, Graduation photo at St. Jude, 1989 At ages 16 and 17 as student council vice-president and then president at the historic St. Jude Educational Institute, I developed a leadership program at the Cleveland Avenue YMCA under the supervision of its director Robert James with the goal of making a difference in the community. For two years, I volunteered every Friday afternoon coordinating this program for children and preteens in the surrounding community, the same community in which Rosa Parks had once lived at the time that she refused to give up her seat when the bus driver James Blake ordered her to do so on the Montgomery bus that fateful evening of December 1, 1955.
  5. 5. At this point in life nearly thirty years later and in the work that I do as a university professor at Cornell University, I continue to find deep inspiration in the legacy of Rosa Parks as both a scholar and artist. In my research, I have written several essays on her and she is also the topic of a chapter in my second book, which examines the impact of black women leaders on national femininity in the public sphere of politics. It analyzes how the public voices that they have claimed, alongside their cultural representations, unsettle stereotypes of black womanhood as they challenge conventional white-centered narratives of U.S. selfhood.
  6. 6. Georgette Norman and I first met after I graduated from Spelman College in the summer of 1993 when we were assigned to the same unit as volunteers for a week at a Girl Scout day camp for economically disadvantaged girls, Camp Sunshine, in Montgomery. At the time, she was serving as director of the Alabama African American Arts Alliance, which she had founded to help support and promote African American and African diasporan art in the state, in keeping with her outstanding leadership legacy of building arts institutions in Alabama to make a positive and transformative community impact. Her cultural contributions have situated her among the South’s foremost black women institution leaders and curators in the arts.
  7. 7. I had made my first art quilt as a senior at Spelman College in 1993, months before we met. She became a mentor in the arts for me and also encouraged me to keep making quilts and to exhibit them at some point. In my life, her mentoring is just one illustration of her deep commitment to mentoring youth in the Montgomery community, a commitment that has also been important in my life, and that was important in the life of Rosa Parks.
  8. 8. As a scholar, the public reception for my first book, Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta, was held at Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery when it was published in 2007 and organized by Georgette Norman. As an art quilter, my first two solo exhibitions of my mixed-media appliqué art quilts in 2008 and 2015 were also both held at Rosa Parks Museum and curated when Georgette was its director. She was named as its founding director in 2000 and led the institution until 2014.
  9. 9. In 2008 and as part of the community-based programming for my first art show, dialoguing with fourth and fifth graders from E.D. Nixon Elementary School in a workshop, a school located a few blocks away from the Y, brought me full circle and back to the community in which I had volunteered during my teen years.
  10. 10. On February 4, 2013 I was honored to serve as the invited speaker for Rosa Parks’s gala 100th birthday celebration at the museum on a program that included a special letter from First Lady Michelle Obama read by Georgette, a poetry reading by National Book Award recipient Nikky Finney, Montgomery’s Mayor Todd Strange and other city officials, along with administrators from Troy University. I had an opportunity to present an excerpt from my academic work on Rosa Parks.
  11. 11. Georgette had developed a “100 Birthday Wishes” community project in Montgomery in which children shared their thoughts about their city, their country and the world and changes that they suggested to make them better places, which were shared in the Montgomery Advertiser and on the night of the celebration, had been printed on paper handmade by children in a traveling mobile throughout the region and were presented to the city officials.
  12. 12. I also donated my art quilt honoring Parks to the museum’s permanent collection
  13. 13. “Rosa Parks, Whose ‘No’ in 1955 Launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Was Heard Around the World”(Commemorating 100 years, 1913-2013) Civil Rights Movement Series, Black History Series, & Alabama Women Series Dedicated to Georgette Norman By Riché Deianne Richardson Photography by Frank Williams
  14. 14. I was presented with a framed set of the stamps and also invited to be a part of the historic stamp unveiling with the postmaster Donald Snipes and Georgette Norman, along with Rosa Parks’s family members who had traveled from Atlanta.
  15. 15. In 2015, Portraits II: From Montgomery to Paris, which featured 60 of my art quilts, was highlighted on public tours to help honor the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and dedicated to the memory of my grandparents, Joe Richardson and Emma Lou Jenkins Richardson. Rosa Parks was the centerpiece of the civil rights quilting series that I developed for this show in tribute to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which features pieces honoring her, Martin Luther King, Jr. and E.D. Nixon.
  16. 16. The other centerpiece that grounds the show is a large triple-panel quilt installation in the Debutante Series that features my grandparents on either side of my aunt Pamela at age 16 during her cotillion in Montgomery in April of 1976 at Garrett Coliseum. It incorporates digital media such as spotlighting and a soundtrack, and also draws on principles of geometry, engineering, and architecture in its development.
  17. 17. The exhibition, which ran from January 10- March 27, 2015, was launched by Troy University with a major public reception held on Dr. King’s January 15th birthday that drew a large public audience. I also released a print card featuring the quilt of him on the occasion.
  18. 18. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to a Dream for America” (Black History Series). Composition 2012-2014. Photography by Daniel Neil
  19. 19. On the eve of the Selma-to-Montgomery March’s historic fiftieth commemoration in Selma, the museum held a gala reception in the gallery room at the Rosa Parks Museum with my quilt exhibition for a host of local leaders as well as many national leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rev. Martin Luther King, III, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Bernice King.
  20. 20. Rev. Bernice King and Rev. Jesse Jackson
  21. 21. My work as both a scholar and visual artist helped me to make a strong public impact during this moment. While my academic work has begun to draw public and media interest on its own terms, I often find myself working on similar research questions in my art but for very different audiences and value working in both contexts. I find that those who may never read my written work can nevertheless reflect on philosophical questions that my exhibitions raise when they encounter my visual work and attend my receptions in public gallery spaces.
  22. 22. In this essay, in light of my training in fields such as literary and cultural studies, I begin by discussing the assault of slavery and its continuing pathologization of blackness through images such as the Aunt Jemima stereotype.
  23. 23. Rosa Parks and her scripts as a national mother, I suggest, importantly challenge conventional white-centered notions of national femininity. In particular, I consider the Rosa Parks Children’s Museum added in 2006 and its dynamic and futuristic engagement with Parks’s legacy designed to facilitate public encounters with her legacy at the site of her arrest. I conclude by discussing how Rosa Parks has continued to shape my commitments to public and community art.
  24. 24. While no narratives of “founding mothers” figure as saliently in the national imagination as those related to the “founding fathers” and white women have typically been marginalized and excluded in these dominant narratives, stories related to figures such as Betsey Ross, who by legend is reputed to have sewn the first American flag, have nevertheless been passed down frequently throughout American history. In the earliest years of the American republic, figures such as Ross and Dolly Madison emerged as national emblems of American patriotism.
  25. 25. However, black women are far less likely to be linked to the prevailing national narratives or to the nation’s sense of selfhood and what it means to be a representative American woman. Blackness has been an inadmissible and unthinkable quality in defining universal or normative notions of American subjectivity and citizenship.
  26. 26. Yet, black women leaders have unsettled the conventional white- and male-centered narratives of American selfhood through recurring scripts in the public sphere as nationally representative women and in relation to notions of national family while using their platforms to challenge prevailing pathological images and narratives related to black motherhood and children in their public voices as manifest in speeches and writing, along with some of their most salient cultural representations and citations.
  27. 27. The Aunt Jemima logo was grounded in the mammy myth that emerged in the antebellum era and further consolidated in the post-Civil War era through Old South plantation nostalgia and romance, which typically represented this figure as an eager servant and caretaker for her master’s family who loved and doted upon his children. In visual representations, in keeping with the mammy stereotype, Aunt Jemima is typically plump, asexual and wears a bandana headscarf.
  28. 28. Nancy Green was the first of a series of black women to bring Aunt Jemima to life by portraying her flipping pancakes in an oversized flour barrel at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois in 1893. In effect, Aunt Jemima, in the context of this historic event, was scripted as a prominent national and global emblem of black femininity. This spectacle proved to be one of the most popular exhibits.
  29. 29. Illustration of Aunt Jemima from the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893
  30. 30. In a compelling piece in The Atlantic entitled “The Mammy Washington Almost Had,” Tony Horwitz begins by making the link between “Aunt Jemima” pancake mix and the mammy as he discusses the famous campaign to erect a monument on the U.S. capital in honor of mammy and as a paean to the figure authorized by the U.S. Senate in 1923 “in memory of the faithful slave mammies of the South.” The campaign was largely spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and was grounded in myths of the Old South that romanticized the work of slave women on Southern plantations, including their relationships to the white children for whom they cared, while extolling their devotion and subservience to white masters and mistresses. The goal was to locate the monument to mammy blocks away from the newly dedicated Lincoln Memorial.
  31. 31. The enthusiastic campaigns to erect this monument to mammy, like the infamous Aunt Jemima display at the World’s Columbian Exposition, dramatize longstanding and highly racialized conventional scripts of black femininity that have figured black women as abject, subordinate and alien within the national imagination. The outcry against this monument in the nation’s public sphere also spoke to longstanding contestations and conflicts over national representations of black women. At the same time, this controversy over mammy anticipated later contestations and challenges that have emerged related to memorializing and monumentalizing black women linked to the nation’s public sphere of politics.
  32. 32. On June 17, 2015, a young white supremacist male named Dylan Roof, who heavily identified with racist and fascist symbols and the Confederate flag, attended a Bible study and took the lives of nine African American congregants at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, including the minister, South Carolina state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Confederate flags and related merchandise have been widely regarded as symbols of racism and hate by African Americans and as a primary aspect of Southern heritage and culture linked to Civil War ancestors among many white Southerners. The emblems were the subject of widespread public discussion in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy and were rapidly removed from commercial circulation by many top companies. Public pressure also led to their removal from some federal and state buildings.
  33. 33. In the days thereafter, I was invited to write an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times on what other problematic symbols need to go besides the flag. My op-ed piece entitled “Can We Please, Finally, Get Rid of Aunt Jemima?”addresses the linkages between Aunt Jemima, the Mammy figure of the Old South, lingering Confederate nostalgia and Southern racism. It raises questions about what is at stake in the lingering visibility of this antebellum stereotype for advertising pancakes, syrup and other breakfast foods in the twenty-first century. It provided a media platform for me engage some of my research concerns at the national level in the context of an urgent public debate.
  34. 34. As someone who has come to view the Rosa Parks Museum as a kind of artistic home in the sense that it has helped me to build upon my early work in life related to Rosa Parks and to remain organically connected to the grassroots community in Montgomery, I cherish this institution as one of the premier sites in the nation for teaching and learning about her legacy, along with the Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute for Self-Development that she established with her friend Elaine Steele. As someone who was already intellectually invested in studying Rosa Parks as I took the tours, I increasingly began to draw on critical frameworks at my disposal to think about the ingenuity in its design. I particularly thought about about how we can use the newest dimension focused on children that builds upon the conventional mythology of Parks as Mother of the Civil Rights Movement to recognize the levels on which it operates subversively by presenting a counter-narrative to conventional stereotypes of black mothering, and extending the platform that she outlines in her books and carried out in her activism related to reaching out to children around the world.
  35. 35. The Rosa Parks Children’s Museum, a new wing added to the Rosa Parks Museum in 2006, is positioned at the Lee and Montgomery street intersection where the famous encounter with Blake occurred on the bus. It complements its cutting edge technologies that develop its primary exhibit of a futuristic bus with themes that simultaneously situate Parks’s action on the bus in relation to a longer history and draws on futuristic themes related to time and space, including a robotic bus driver for a virtual tour.
  36. 36. It frames her message as a universal one and is developed primarily to speak to youth growing up in the twenty-first century in a digital age. The installation draws a national and global audience of thousands of tourists annually and is one of the foremost institutions that have been established as a tribute to her national legacy in civil rights. Visited by thousands of tourists annually, including many from around the world, its popularity points to the extent to which Parks has been embraced by an intergenerational audience and to the timelessness of her message, including its themes related to freedom. They are themes that run counter to narratives in popular culture and hip hop that reductively frame Parks in relation to the past or dismiss her altogether, such as those of the rap group OutKast and Cedric the Entertainer, but relate her legacy to the future. In this sense, they demonstrate the limits and misperceptions in such popular readings of Parks.
  37. 37. Just as we have witnessed a profusion of documentaries, dramatic films, and scholarly studies that have emerged in the post-civil rights era to examine the history of the Civil Rights Movement, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery is among the primary institutions in the nation that have been established in recent years to explore those legacies. It is an institution established to promote knowledge about Rosa Parks just as the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia has been a central site for teaching about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Significantly, the Rosa Parks Museum is one of the most prominent and elaborate tributes dedicated to a woman of the Civil Rights Movement.
  38. 38. The location of the museum in the shadow of the state capitol building evokes the memory of this architecture as a symbol of how the state worked to legally disenfranchise the black population also routinely targeted by forms of violence and terror to which the state turned a blind eye. Yet, the juxtaposition of the Rosa Parks Museum with the state capitol building, like its close proximity to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King once preached, evokes Montgomery as part of “a New South.” Such buildings register as key landmarks on the map of a renovated and modernized downtown Montgomery area and affirm the relevance of Parks and King to state history. Both institutions have helped open the door and pave the way to the major permanent national memorials related to these figures on the nation’s capital while simultaneously constructing them as salient symbols of the national body and speak profoundly to their impact on national identity.
  39. 39. The “Cleveland Avenue Time Machine” is the centerpiece of the Children’s Museum at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, which opened in 2006. Georgette spearheaded this new expansion at the museum, which occurred a year after Parks’s passing. In 2009, it won a TEA Award for Outstanding Achievement in the category “Exhibition on a Limited Budget” (from what was once the Themed Entertainment Association) in March, 2009 at the 14th annual Thea Awards Ceremony held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. The installation was a collective design effort by Eisterhold Associations of Kansas City, Missouri, Jan Bochenek of Virginia, Ben Lawless of Maryland, Peter Vogt of Washington, DC, and Hadley Exhibits of New York, which conceptualized its primary features that include special lighting, a seven-projector video, audio and fog. The large bus installation display most viscerally climaxes the museum’s emphasis on temporal themes.
  40. 40. The bus is painted green, gold and beige to resemble the one on which Parks was arrested in 1955. However, a number of features accord it a futuristic aura: the larger size and rectangular shape; the larger than average bus seats; the wider aisle, and the robot driver named “Mr. Rivets” poised over a dashboard with gadgets resembling those on space ships in science fiction films.
  41. 41. As a space, the bus evokes the past through its color scheme as its design and features evoke an image of the futuristic. The bus is framed through its naming and appearance as a time machine. The installation of the giant bus is a space designed to look larger than life from the perspective of a child and to provide a more imaginative tour to engage the history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The bus is “parked” in a large, open warehouse-like display space, framed by black metal posts, connected to a host of wires and steam pumps that one might see in an industrial factory and must be boarded by walking down a long, L-shaped ramp lined with metal rails that lead up to its entrance. Once a passenger is seated, Mr. Rivets starts the engine and the bus uses a host of special effects such as vibrations, flashing lights, steam and sound to create the sensation of motion, features that draw in the senses and create the illusion that the bus itself is a machine.
  42. 42. Time travel in the sense popularized through science fiction surfaces as the central motif in the video as the tourist goes back in time 150 years, an imaginative journey into the past signaled by the physical vibrations of the bus. It is notable that the naming of this bus installation invokes the H. G. Wells novel The Time Machine, which popularized the concept of time travel and expanded the possibilities for imagining the phenomenon, given this novel’s publication in 1895, the year before the Plessy v. Ferguson decision was issued by the Supreme Court that sanctioned the “Separate but Equal” doctrine segregating public facilities, including forms of public transportation. Navigating the trip forward in time emerges as the main purpose of Mr. Rivets.
  43. 43. On the “Cleveland Avenue Time Machine,” which conserves original coloration but otherwise fully re-imagines and redesigns the No. 2857 GM on which Parks was arrested, the robotic Mr. Rivets manifests qualities associated with the cyborg and anticipates a post-human subject, even as his status as a male bus driver might seems to conserve the conventional logic of gender. He is also marked as post- racial, but in a sense that lays bare rather than attempts to resist the social impact of racism as is typically the case with this ideology. In effect, Mr. Rivets replaces James Blake in his role as the navigator for a diverse generation of passengers and realigns the significations of race, gender and sexuality that had been related to Parks in 1955 that I discuss as this chapter begins. He facilitates their encounter with the past as he sits poised to transport them to a world of new possibilities in the twenty-first century and beyond. The videos that unfold on screens positioned outside of the bus windows create the sense that one is surrounded by and traveling through history as Parks’s story is narrated.
  44. 44. If a video is initially mobilized as a medium for thinking about the history related to the Montgomery Bus Boycott on the main tour, including Rosa Parks’s pivotal encounter on the bus, the video highlighted in the Children’s Museum is equally invested in launching its young audience on an imaginative journey into the future and draws on images associated with the space age. Nomenclature for the Children’s Museum in Montgomery, I want to suggest, by tacitly citing Parks as a symbolic mother, further consolidated the prevailing narratives linking Rosa Parks to national femininity in the U.S.
  45. 45. However, if the “mother” metaphor is tacit in the Children’s Museum’s naming, the museum effectively recasts it by eschewing its typical romanticization within civil rights history while detaching it from its typical national and global moorings and associating it with notions of futurity as much as the past. The naming is also significant for alluding to the famous “Children’s March” in Birmingham, Alabama that occurred in 1963. Moreover, the young audiences toward whom the institution pitches this tour can be thought of an extension of the youth mentored by Parks during her lifetime, a group whom the recurrent maternal metaphors associated with her also played a vital role in constituting. Forced movements and migration that attended the era of modernity and that were intricately linked to slavery are replaced on this time machine by the imagining of a world with an image of travel as voluntary and the removal of all limitations on time and space. It ruptures the containment and marginalizing negotiations with which black subjects have been associated in the schema of modernity since the era of slavery by creating a futuristic space in which all human subjects are free from mental and physical constraints with the entire universe at their disposal, and in which alternative and more inclusive historical narratives of the past flow freely. In this space, the hope and potential looking toward the year 2055 is an indispensable complement for thinking back on the historic events of 1955.
  46. 46. The dynamic installation “The Cleveland Avenue Time Machine” challenges this narrative of the civil rights era as passé beginning in its accompanying video by making Rosa Parks a reigning emblem in the longstanding African American struggles against segregation of public facilities while simultaneously signifying her as a harbinger of African American futurity. The bus serves as a symbol of the future as its movement also prompts its tourists and passengers, with Mr. Rivets as navigator, to reflect on the past. The installation registers the axis of temporal nodes from past to present and constitutes a vision that dislodges Parks from romantic and nostalgic narratives of civil rights history as it facilitates her framing as a premier revolutionary and as a woman who made a national impact on ending segregation, but whose significance is global and universal. While the ship, given its materialist linkages to the African slave trade, has recurrently functioned as a symbol of slavery and the oppression of African diasporan subjects in the Western world, the bus emerges in this installation as the primary symbol that encompasses post-civil rights struggles against Jim Crow and the journey on to new horizons.
  47. 47. The trajectory of time travel staged in this installation is primarily backward. The “Cleveland Avenue Time Machine” creates an interactive and inter-subjective engagement with the past as signaled by its visual colorization, along with features such as the video and the animated sound and light effects that it creates to simulate movement backward in time. Yet, the main movement suggested is travel forward. The dynamic installation mobilizes these features to ground the bus boycott in a transcendent narrative of movement and time that signals the future, and exceeds earthly dimensions and temporalities by drawing heavily on science fiction, a genre in which black and female subjects have remained largely invisible and marginal as characters and topics of interest with the exception of writers such as Octavia Butler. Moreover, the accompanying video’s narrative emphasizes Rosa Parks as a black feminine subject, along with a range of black female precursors who challenged segregation in public transportation and unsettles conventional male-focused chronicles of African American history.
  48. 48. The dynamic installation in effect dislodges civil rights history, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, from the notions of stasis to which it has been linked at times in the popular arena. This approach is particularly significant when considering the diverse audience of children and adolescents to whom this aspect of the exhibition is primarily pitched. It is aimed at a new generation of youth born in the post-millennium era that sometimes lack knowledge about civil rights history and internalize the myth of its obsolescence, who will stand at the forefront in rethinking and retelling this history to future generations growing up in a digital age, and who often learn most effectively though technology and multimedia. The representations linking Rosa Parks to a journey across time that I am describing here are classifiable as “Afro- futuristic.”
  49. 49. I want to suggest that in historicizing and remembering the Montgomery Bus Boycott and monumentalizing Rosa Parks as a civil rights leader via video while drawing centrally on features derived from technology and science fiction, the “Cleveland Avenue Time Machine” installation poignantly actualizes a visual and aural aesthetics in keeping with Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is a critical and cultural discourse in areas such as literature and art that draws on areas such as fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction, to engage the past and present in relation to the lives of minorities, including people of African descent, while decentering Western-centered frames of reference. Mark Dery, author of the seminal essay “Black to the Future,” introduced the term itself in 1993.
  50. 50. It has been further advanced and developed critically by scholars such as Alondra Nelson, who founded an internet site called “Afrofuturism” in 1998. Nelson acknowledges that the site emerged in part because dialogues about blacks and technology proved limiting in their vacillation between a focus on the utopian fantasy of technology in eliminating race and an emphasis on the rhetoric of a digital divide.
  51. 51. Birmingham, Alabama musician Sun Ra, who later migrated to Chicago and founded a band known as the “Arkestra” in the 1950s, stood at the forefront in developing an Afrofuturist discourse in music through forms of synthesis that drew saliently on images of Africa, space, and science fiction in costuming, sound and visual aesthetics. While his groundbreaking innovations in jazz and experiences in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia typically link his Afrofuturist musical production to urban contexts, Sun Ra’s foundational musical training and performances in clubs in Birmingham during the bitter years of the Jim Crow era shaped the staging strategies and visual aesthetics that emerged later in his career. These contours also organically link the origins of Afrofuturism to Alabama and the U.S. South and make it all the more compelling to draw on in thinking about an installation such as the “Cleveland Avenue Time Machine” in Montgomery.
  52. 52. Tragically, during the final days of December of 2013, the popular Montgomery rapper named Doe B. who had been produced and mentored by T.I., and two other people lost their lives and six people were shot altogether during an ambush at a local night club in the city, which culminated a year during which the city had witnessed multiple homicides. Doe B. was known for both his talent and generosity in the community. During this period, Michelle Browder, a grassroots community artist and activist in Montgomery who has also worked on numerous public art projects and initiatives related to civil rights history that have been encouraged and supported by Georgette, and who is also well known for her colorful paintings and murals and creative and visionary designs on Converse sneakers as canvases, took an image of my Rosa Parks quilt and replaced the broken arrest number on it with the words “#No More: Stand Up Against Violence” as a call to end in the city, which has largely been perpetrated by black youth. She posted her redesigned version of my quilt in social media on Facebook and challenged others to join her as she “hit the streets” to take a stand against violence. This was a powerful statement that not only underscored the continuing significance of Parks’s civil rights legacy in Montgomery, but also affirmed its relevance to her grassroots community organizing initiatives to help promote peace. Browder’s statement was quite powerful and aimed to mobilize increasing political and community action to address this issue.
  53. 53. The Artist Michelle Browder’s Compelling Reinterpretation of My Rosa Parks Art Quilt.
  54. 54. In fall of 2016, I was invited to speak and exhibit my civil rights quilts at the annual Westheimer Peace Symposium at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio. I was also invited to contribute a block to a community quilt that was made in tandem with this event to promote messages related to peace, which I rendered in my typical appliqué style. Browder’s provocative retooling of my Rosa Parks quilt and use of it as part of her campaign to raise awareness within her anti-violence campaign is in part what inspired me to replace the arrest number on the Rosa Parks quilt block that I created with the name “JOHN,” to honor on John Crawford, who was tragically killed by a police officer in a Walmart in Ohio in August of 2014.
  55. 55. I appreciated the dialogism that Browder established with me as an artist through this gesture and it has inspired me to continue designing Rosa Parks quilt blocks that foreground the first names of victims to help ensure that they will not be forgotten. I was honored to have my art quilts installed in the gallery room alongside Gail Cyan’s powerful quilt featuring John Crawford, which depicted his image in juxtaposition with a view of Black Panther Party women giving the black power salute. For me, this quilt, like Browder’s art and my representation of Parks in relation to John Crawford, links the global freedom movement that Parks catalyzed and earlier black liberation movement to newer political movements, from Black Lives Matter to #SayHerName, that are designed to critique and protest police violence.
  56. 56. My tribute to John Crawford developed for the community quilt as part of the Westheimer Peace Symposium at Wilmington College in October, 2016
  57. 57. Like the installation in the Children’s Museum, such art projects simultaneously link Parks’s legacy to the past, present and future. At the same time, the initiative out of which this gesture emerged in Montgomery underscores the importance of continuing work to combat crime within black communities.