in collaboration with the talented team at alabama chanin, we’ve been working on ways to help our community have the hard talks. we do clothes and we love words, so we figured we’d combine the two in hopes of creating a soft shirt and a safe space. these responsibly-made, 100% organic cotton tees were handpainted in florence, alabama just for basic. as part of a limited series designed with civil discourse in mind. words have power and meaning, and we believe they can be used to help change the landscape of our home.
in 1955, 7053 was the number that sparked a revolution. in 2020, we hope it sparks a conversation.
100% of the profits from this release will be donated to the equal justice initiative in honor of rosa parks and jeremiah reeves.
we have an illusory relationship with history in the deep south. our textbooks recognize the leadership of the reverend dr. martin luther king jr, and most schools require kids to read ‘to kill a mockingbird’. we condemn the bombing of the 16th street baptist church, we denounce the bigotry of george wallace, and we highlight the accomplishments of fred shuttlesworth, the reverend jesse jackson, and the freedom riders. we make sure to touch all the marquee headlines, cross the proverbial t’s, and dot our i’s. then we wrap it all up with an often dismissive, usually tone-deaf happily ever after and are on our way. as such, what should be a robust anthology of the fight for freedom and social justice in alabama reads more like an alarmingly benign highlight reel concluding in diplomatic “equality.”
in this part of the world, it’s almost effortless to frame the narrative if you’ve got the right (white) perspective. while alabama often identifies as resident expert for all things civil rights, the faded illustrations that accompany our accounts of old have long abandoned the context and nuance necessary to validate such a claim. to the distinct disservice of those entrenched in the struggle for equality, much of the strategy, sacrifice, and success of the civil rights movement has thus far been reduced to anecdotal tales of genial perseverance and “thank you, sir, may i have another?” we have bullet-pointed and erased and romanticized and edited to our heart’s content, and the authentic, albeit prickly, plotlines have been lost inside of concerns over optics and the status quo. the result is a woefully incomplete spark notes history fragmented by inaccuracy and omission. the title of our autobiography should be ‘alabama: abridged’.
to the detriment of all, such is the case for one of the most prolific individuals of the civil rights era - a woman who was much more than the single event that made her famous.
she’s often painted as a timid seamstress who quietly refused when asked to change seats for a white man, but rosa louise mccauley parks was in fact an educated and seasoned civil rights activist who’d already spent a lifetime challenging white supremacy. by the time of the montgomery bus boycott, she’d served as a secretary and youth counselor for the naacp, worked tirelessly for justice for black women victims of white brutality and sexual violence, fought for the freedom of jeremiah reeves and other wrongfully convicted black men, and pushed for the desegregation of public spaces. she wasn’t new to the fight to dismantle oppressive systems, and for the entirety of her life, she never left it.
on december 1, 1955 in montgomery, alabama, a worn out mrs. rosa parks was arrested after she politely declined to change seats for a white passenger on her bus ride home from work. she was forced to exit the bus, handcuffed, and then taken to jail where she stood for a mugshot before making bail later that evening. the next day, in response to the arrest, mrs. jo ann robinson and the women’s political council began disseminating flyers with instructions for a one-day boycott of the city’s transportation system by the black community. by december 5, 1955, the wpc and their montgomery bus boycott launched what would become a 381-day campaign uniting more than 40,000 black alabamians in a common cause against systemic oppression.
it took over a year, but on december 20, 1956, the united states supreme court declared the alabama laws concerning segregation on buses unconstitutional. in the time leading up to the ruling, the montgomery bus boycott succeeded in mobilizing and bolstering civil rights efforts at home. while the movement gained steam, however, rosa parks and her family suffered harsh repercussions as a consequence. because of her public rejection of segregation, she’d been fired, ostracized by the broader montgomery community, and couldn’t find any work. when the death threats didn’t stop coming, she and her husband raymond made the difficult decision to relocate near her brother and his family in detroit in 1957.
undeterred by a change in venue, rosa parks remained committed to the advancement of justice and equality as she became one of the most influential civil rights leaders of all time. over the years, she lectured at organizations across the globe, shared meals with presidents and prime ministers, and helped to educate people in every corner of the world. she co-founded the rosa and raymond parks institute for self-development, and she invested in helping children reach their highest potential. she wrote thousands of journal entries, letters, and notes detailing a lifetime of social advocacy and the painful realities of being black in america, and her words have become an invaluable resource in providing context around some of the most significant civil rights events in history. nelson mandela once chanted her name, and she was awarded the presidential medal of freedom. she’s been called the “first lady of civil rights” and the “mother of the freedom movement.”
in december of 1988, more than thirty years after the montgomery bus boycott, life magazine prompted a few hundred men and women to answer the question, “why are we here? what is the meaning of life?” a then sixty-five year old rosa parks responded,
“i was born in the south, 50 years after slavery, when racial segregation was legally enforced. racial pride and self-dignity were emphasized in my family and community because of the seeming insecurities and concerted efforts of many whites to make blacks feel and act inferior. i was, therefore, determined to achieve the total freedom that our history lessons taught us we were entitled to, no matter what the sacrifice. to this day i believe we are here on the planet earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom. differences of race, nationality or religion should not be used to deny any human being citizenship rights or privileges. life is to be lived to its fullest so that death is just another chapter. memories of our lives, our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
rosa parks became an international symbol of resistance to oppression by taking a stand for what she knew was right in the face of an unconstitutional law that said otherwise. even now, the echo of her dissent can be heard in the ongoing cries for racial, religious, and gender equality. while her “no” may be what we remember most, her truest legacy is that of an enduring freedom fighter whose will and determination to peacefully defy injustice inspired a societal revolution. we owe it to their sacrifices to tell the full stories of not only rosa parks, but of all the individuals whose blood, sweat, and tears laid the foundations for justice and freedom. may the memories of their lives, their works, and their deeds continue in us today. tired seamstress was only the tip of a decidedly disruptive iceberg.
of note: the arrest of rosa parks was the catalyst that launched the montgomery bus boycott, but the planning and organization of the boycott and ensuing movement was successful largely due to the tireless work of many other black women. it would be impossible to overstate the importance and contributions of claudette colvin, mary louise smith, aurelia browder, viola white, geneva johnson, lillie mae bradfield, katie wingfield, susie mcdonald, epsie worthy, mary fair burks, thelma glass, and countless others. we are all indebted to their strength and sacrifice.
for more information on rosa parks and/or the equal justice initiative, please refer to the following resources:
to shop the basic. x alabama chanin limited edition 7503 shirt, please click here.
images of rosa parks courtesy of the library of congress.