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Riché Richardson will present material from both her current book project, Black Femininity, Global South: Visualizing the Politics of Race, Reaction and Revolution, and her work with the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery where she has displayed her appliqué quilts. Given Parks’ upcoming 2013 centenary (one that coincides with GSU’s own celebration), this presentation by Richardson will prove to be provocative and timely.
Coverage of her work with the Rosa Parks museum in Montgomery can be viewed here.
What is the continuing significance of Rosa Parks? Why is it important to remember her now?
“The action of Rosa Parks, through her choice to remain seated, birthed an international movement for civil and human rights that makes it fitting to think of her not only as ‘the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,’ but also as a person, a woman, who changed the world. To this day, her example brings hope and inspiration to people everywhere, including many children. When Rosa Parks sat down, American democracy moved forward. The project of freedom moved forward.“
How has Rosa Parks impacted your life and why does she inspire so many young people?
“Her earliest work centered on youth as she worked with the NAACP Youth Council prior to her arrest in 1955. She was also tireless as an activist committed to helping children gain access to segregated libraries. Children were at the center, the very heart, of Rosa Parks’s lifelong mission. Indeed, the ‘Rosa Parks 100th Birthday Wishes” project at Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery is one of the best possible tributes to her that could have been envisioned to help celebrate this important moment. When I was 17, I wrote a poem honoring her entitled “Together We Will Win” during a period when I had begun to work with youth as a volunteer myself. I attended St. Jude Educational Institute in Montgomery, whose campus is best historically known as the final camping place for Selma-to-Montgomery marchers in 1965. Rosa Parks’s best friend, Johnnie Rebecca Carr, who served as President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, is also my great aunt, and so brought civil rights history to life for me and demonstrated its continuing significance through her work.”
What Will it Mean to Have a Statue of Rosa Parks Installed in the U.S. Capitol Building?
“A lot. A whole lot. Rosa Parks is one of the best ambassadors for freedom in U.S. history, and one of the most significant agents of change. She received honors during her lifetime such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. Just as she made history on the bus in 1955, she was also the very first woman and second African American to rest in repose on the Capitol Rotunda in 2005, an honor mainly reserved for U.S. presidents. It is also significant that she will be the first black to be represented in Statuary Hall. This new statue affirms the continuing significance of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott for all Americans and opens the door to new teaching opportunities related to these subjects. My research in one chapter of the book that I am finishing addresses some of the historical challenges in establishing historical sites and monuments related to African Americans, issues that make it all the more important to celebrate and cherish breakthroughs like this. The new Rosa Parks postage stamp is also an important milestone. In my research, I am interested in thinking about how Rosa Parks has impacted notions of national femininity and emerged as an emblem of the national body. I am also inspired that so many people with diverse perspectives in our culture, and even politicians from liberal to conservative, including U.S. presidents such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, all value and embrace the legacy of Rosa Parks. That says a lot. She is a powerful symbol. Just as she was a person of profound religious faith, she deeply believed in democracy. People in so many places think about what that bus, perhaps the most famous bus in history, means in their own lives, and deeply admire and respect her, and celebrate her.”
Riché Richardson is currently an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University where she serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies. She is a scholar of African American literature with additional specialties in American literature, Southern studies and gender studies. Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, she attended Spelman College, and received her B.A. in 1993. She received her Ph.D. in American literature from Duke University in 1998. Her essays have been published in journals such as American Literature, the Mississippi Quarterly, the Forum for Modern Language Studies, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, TransAtlantica, NKA, and Black Camera. Her first book, Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), was highlighted by Choice Books among the "Outstanding Academic Titles of 2008" and by the Eastern Book Company among the "Outstanding Academic Titles, Humanities, 2008." Her book in progress examines the U.S. South in relation to black femininity. Since 2005, she has served as co-editor with Jon Smith of the New Southern Studies book series at the University of Georgia Press.
As a visual artist, her work has been featured in several museum exhibitions, including a debut show at the Rosa Parks Museum from July-September, 2008. It is the subject of a short film made in Paris by Anne Crémieux and Géraldine Chouard entitled A Portrait of the Artist (2008), is featured in the Lauren Cross film The Skin Quilt Project (2010), and is the subject of a chapter of Patricia A. Turner's Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters. In January of 2009, she visited Paris, France as a "Cultural Envoy" of the U.S. Embassy in France, was featured in their "Speaker Series" through a grant from the U.S. Department of State, and honored at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence.