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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Incredible Case of Rosa Parks and James Blake

In 'Life Cycles' terms you may have noticed that occasionally I make reference to more than one 'significant year' in the life of the person I am analysing. That is; more than one 'Year of Revolution' (eg. what happened at 24 and then maybe 36 or 48) and more than one 'Year of Broken Pathway' (eg. what happened at 19 and 31 or maybe 43). Why would I do this? Well the answer is simple:- If your life is lived in 12 year cycles that are the same, then maybe there is some similarity between the events in your life 12 years apart. I am always careful to add the qualification, that it will be broadly speaking a similar theme that is being repeated and not, of course, the same actions or people involved.

Now we are dealing with a series of articles on the 'Year of Broken Pathways', which means I have been looking at the ages of usually 31 and 43, as they are prominent in so many people's lives. It is at these ages that fateful turning points occur to provide a challenge and new direction, that will take the rest of the 12 year cycle to deal with. I have been giving you many well-known illustrations. However once and once only in my extensive research did I come across the 'one in a billion' case, where the events happening at age 31 between two very different people were repeated exactly the same twelve years later at the age of 43. Not just a similar broad theme, but the same exact scenario! I found it by accident from an Obituary, but I submit it to you in the 'Weird or What?' category.

Rosa Parks has been called by the US Congress the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement". She is famous for challenging segregated bus seating just before Christmas in 1955 in Alabama. She refused to give up her seat for a white passenger, in what was known as a kind of "buffer zone", designed to keep the races apart. She knew the bus driver, James Blake. Exactly twelve years before this, in 1943, she had her first run-in on a public bus on a rainy day. The same driver, James Blake, demanded she get off the bus and re-enter through the back door. As she began to exit, she dropped her purse and sat momentarily in a seat for white passnegers, while she picked it up. This enraged the driver, who sped off as soon as she got out, leaving her to walk more than five miles home in the rain. Just before Christmas in that year she joins the local chapter of the NAACP and became active in the Civil rights movement.

Fast forward to 1955 now and this time Blake did not confront Rosa Parks immediately, but asked some of the male blacks in the back if they would give up a seat for her. When that failed however he had her arrested, finger-printed and jailed; as the drivers were empowered by law not only to tell blacks to move, but also to arrest them. This led to the decision to rally behind her, as her dignified style appealed to middle and working class alike. The then little-known Martin Luther King led a boycott of buses by blacks. This became the inspiration for a similar boycott in South Africa and one of the key events in the radicalisation of the ANC.

Why do I feature this without telling you Rosa Parks age? Well you see that is only half the story in her life each time. She was aged 30 and 42 and was one year short of her 'Year of Broken Pathways' when ordinary moments in her life become significant. She didn't like her treatment but you might have thought she'd end up a huge winner particularly in 1956 when the US Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation on buses, deeming it unconstitutional. Rosa Parks however suffered hardships. She lost her job at the department store and her husband quit his job, after his boss forbade him from talking about his wife or the legal case. They left Montgomery and moved to Detroit. Her own personal life was completely altered. Did something similar happen in 1944 when she was 31? Yes once again she left Montgomery and worked briefly at Maxwell Air Force base, a federally owned area where there was no racial segregation and she told her biographer that:-"You might say this opened my eyes up". These moments, you see, were her own personal 'Broken Pathway'.

What of James Blake? Why did I bother to mention him at all? Well, after checking Rosa's altered circumstances in her next year each time, I also checked James Blake's age. He was born April, 14th. 1912 making him 31 and then 43 when both incidents accured. Yes he was in his own personal 'Year of Broken Pathways'. On both occasions he would say he simply followed city regulations to the letter. But in 1943 I don't think speeding off in the rain, when the passeneger had gone to re-board the bus, was morally correct regardless of how society was at the time. I'm sure it led on to Rosa Parks joining the Civil rights movement in Dec. 1943. Then in Dec. 1955 he said:- "I wasn't trying to do anything to that Park's woman except my job. That damn bus was full and she wouldn't move back. I had my orders". He comtinued to work another 19 years for the bus company. However he was swept up in one of the most influential turning points in US history. I can only begin to imagine the effect this had on him in 1956.

This shows the power and undoubted evidence of 'Life Cycles' in their lives. What about in yours? Remember you don't have to make history. All lives are interesting. But who had the greatest 'Year of Broken Pathways' of all? Stick around because I'll tell you next month and until then:- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune".

1 comment:

  1. Interesting juxtaposition between the lives of Parks and Blake. Shows how small, seemingly insignificant actions can precipitate huge changes in the life of a society as well as an individual.