Rosa Park’s successor

At IntoThePast we believe that knowing our past helps us to better understand the present world. Just as important it is to examine the difficult fragments of our history to learn from our mistakes, it is just as crucial to study the bios of prominent figures who reshaped the whole communities and try to continue their work, not allowing for their legacy to be lost and forgotten.

In December 1955 Rosa Parks marked her place in America’s history by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man and thereby starting the seminal Montgomery bus boycott. The event has attracted the attention of numerous prominent civil rights figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, and has wielded influence on racial segregation policy across the whole country. One year after Park’s arrest, on December 20th, 1956, Supreme Court found the Alabama laws regarding bus segregation unconstitutional. It took another 8 years to abolish all legally enforced public segregation in the whole country by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the meantime, Rosa Parks, often dubbed “the mother of the freedom movement”, became a symbol of courage and fight for civil rights. Today, more than 60 years after the turbulent events in Montgomery, in the very same city there is a man who continues the fight for civil rights and equal treatment in the American society. Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, has devoted his life to protect basic human rights of incarcerated Americans. The organization fights against unfair and excessive sentences in criminal cases and racial bias in criminal justice. They are trying to abolish the death penalty, improve prison conditions, limit abuse of the mentally ill during incarceration, and aid children prosecuted as adults. Since its formation in 1994 EJI has handled hundreds of capital cases sparing more than a hundred and twenty-five offenders from execution. Its biggest success up to date is winning in the U.S. Supreme Court a historic ruling holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

Photograph by James Duncan Davidson, distributed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Stevenson’s organization conducts also multiple researches on the history of racial injustice in the U.S. In its report from 2015, EJI documented over 4000 victims of lynching between 1877 and 1950, the number not acknowledged before by any institution. To honor the memory of victims of racial violence, the organization is planning to open in 2018 a national memorial to victims of lynching in Montgomery, Alabama.

As it is often emphasized by EJI, the vast majority of the lynching acts have got none to little recognition resulting in lynching locations remaining mostly unmarked. In order to deepen the knowledge about those crimes, the organization continues to identify those sites. Moreover, EJI together with local volunteers collects the soil from these locations as an element of an exhibition commemorating the victims of lynching.

If you want to learn more about Bryan Stevenson and his work we recommend you watching his moving talk from 2012 entitled “We need to talk about injustice”.

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