A summer of reflection — and fears of history repeating itself

It is a striking image, a fearless visage staring at the camera while holding a sign with booking number “7053” chest high. “Beautiful rebel” are the words used to describe Rosa Parks on the coaster that I’ve decided will never cushion a bottle or glass.

Another mugshot has made the news this summer though I don’t think even his supporters would label the subject “beautiful.” “Defiant” is the better adjective for the Donald Trump that looks out from the photo taken when he was booked in Fulton County, Ga., the first mug shot of an American president. Controversial? Yes. But after being charged with a litany of felonies that stem from his and his allies’ alleged efforts to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, was there a choice?

While it has been impossible to escape the image now gracing X, formerly known as Twitter, T-shirts and more, the first — the quiet, determined woman — has been stripped of its radical origins, if it’s remembered at all by those who praise the former president’s close-up.

When and if children learn about Rosa Parks and her role in the civil rights movement, the lesson is usually recounted through a gauzy lens that portrays her as a respectable seamstress who just got tired one day instead of the tireless NAACP activist whose refusal to move to the back of the bus was an inevitable and deliberate part of a movement, the continuing fight against the social order of segregation, white supremacy and police brutality that ruled the day.

It wasn’t only Parks in the fight. She has been elevated because of America’s tendency to flatten and simplify, to spoon-feed harsh historical truths in a narrative of happily-ever-afters. In fact, the famous Parks mugshot was taken, not in 1955 during her initial arrest, but in February 1956, when Parks and many other activists were targeted by the city in an attempt to break the back of a boycott that was getting results and making Montgomery leaders “uncomfortable.”

Discomfort, though, was part of the rebellion — the only way to change the status quo.

The ceramic square is a souvenir collected during my visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, one stop in my summer of visits to civil rights museums, the chance to broaden my own education about American history.

In her 100th year, is it time to take Rosa Parks off that pedestal?

Just the memory of Rosa Parks can still get the job done. In this case, 100 years after her birth, the late civil rights icon is bringing together the president and the Democratic and Republican leaders of both the House and the Senate. In the partisan atmosphere of Washington, D.C., that’s close to a miracle. The lineup of speakers was scheduled for Wednesday’s dedication of a statue in Parks’ honor in National Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol.

As an image is being revealed, it’s past time to correct the false one in America’s imagination: That Rosa Parks was a meek, humble seamstress, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus that day in 1955 – because she was tired – and spontaneously sparked a more than yearlong boycott and a movement. The Rosa Parks sold to the public was what was accepted for a woman, particularly a black woman, but it hid her full measure. She was the respectable symbol that was needed at the time, even though the flesh-and-blood activist was far more interesting.