Transit Equity Day is held to honor the legacy of Rosa Parks and her role in the modern civil rights movement. It’s also a recognition that the issues of civil rights, freedom of movement, worker rights, and feminism are connected. Transit riders are renters who demand protections from rapacious landlords, workers organizing for a living wage, people with disabilities fighting for equal access, and LGBTQI people demanding dignity under the law. They don’t lead single issue lives and their struggles are bound together and intersectional.
This year Rosa Parks’ birthday and Transit Equity Day take place under the shadow of a recent Florida Department of Education decision that seeks to both rewrite the history of the civil rights movement and regulate which social movements are taught in schools. The state’s decision to reject an A.P. African America Studies class is part of a larger political project to erase the legacy of the Combahee River Collective, whose members helped define modern Black feminism and coined the term identity politics. It removes iconic activists and scholars, such as Angela Davis, from the story of struggle. It targets Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectional analysis and critical race theory. It wants to marginalize the profound impact the Movement for Black Lives has had on American society in recent years. Sadly, the College Board, which administers A.P. courses, appears likely to bow to much of what Florida’s campaign of coercion is trying to achieve.
But Florida’s laws get the history and people of the civil rights movement fundamentally wrong. The movement has always contained multitudes and interwoven identities. Communists like the artist Paul Robeson. Women like Rosa Parks and Ella Baker who led mainline civil rights campaigns. Labor leaders like A. Philip Randolph. LGBTQI activists like the brilliant James Baldwin. Malcolm X and his calls to unite oppressed people from around the globe. And the searing anti-imperialism and anti-militarism, too often airbrushed from history, of MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. We should honor and fight to preserve that history, and the current movements that carry on its legacy, as we celebrate Rosa Parks and Black History Month.