They Followed Rosa


Maker Series


Pictured above: fifteen very intentional civil rights activists.

Their pictures are worth 436 times a thousand words.

Did you know that more than a decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, there was Bayard Rustin? That also before Rosa were Irene MorganLillie Mae Bradford, Sarah Keys, Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith and Susie McDonald? That three quarters of a century -- 87 years -- before Rosa Parks, there was Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1854)? Or that, after Rosa, there came roughly 436 more?

It's a big deal that after decades, really centuries, with the burden of abolition and of decrying racism being mostly upon the oppressed, that the burden is now beginning to be seen, decried and shared more in earnest by a groundswell of brothers and sisters of all colors, and all stripes, all across the world in 2021. Still, an interfaith band of 436 men and women from 1961 have some things to teach us. Principles they stuck to in spite of great opposition. Opposition which they knew could come at the ultimate cost.

Poetry. Articles. Speeches. Prose. Illustrations. Graphic art. Abstract art. Music, movement. Collages. Gallery displays. Interior spaces. Events. I curate, design and craft a variety of things, ostensibly for public consumption, and I'm passionate about it. A lot of it doesn't end up -- often by virtue of its art form -- in a store. But I also own and create for a store and am just as passionate about what goes in it: ARTHAUS:Detroit. There, I offer accessories, stationery, decor and prints for private consumption that are meant to honor, uplift, empower, encourage, enlighten, embolden, affirm, and advocate. One of the accessories honors the 436. Chiefly, the women among them who risked their lives for freedom. Theirs. And ours.

Though Martin Luther King was considered the voice of the civil rights movement, many were the foot soldiers, such as the Freedom Riders. Nice ring for a biker gang name, right? But the fact that many people -- and not just young people -- hear that moniker and think it's a biker gang...the fact that even a good number of people my age were insulated enough in their everyday lives to say they've never heard of them, is reason enough for me to furlough some of my creative energy into making advocate accessories. Freedom Rider Advocate bracelets, featuring women who integrated segregated interstate buses, provide a novel way to advocate.

We Americans express ourselves freely and like to show what or who we're getting behind. We love our bumper stickers, posters and decals. We have a magazine and a day for everything. And, boy do we love our tees. Sometimes with humor, sometimes not, we make our positions pretty clear, and we don't apologize for them. It's a beautiful thing when large swaths of our corner of the world get behind one good thing, be it Team World Vision or tying yellow ribbons. With all that's happening now, our 436 Freedom Riders are worth looking at and getting behind.

We can't let Freedom Riders pass from memory. What we stand to learn about the foot soldiers -- who went with John Lewis, after Rosa Parks -- will tell us why we need to take a page from their book if we want to be the change we want to see, effect the change we want to make, and do it above reproach. Armed with knowledge and persistently acting on it non-violently. That's what it took to effectively challenge the non-enforcement of the U. S. Supreme Court decisions which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional.

We need activists to maintain the current momentum, now as much as we did in the 60s. And we need advocates behind the activists.

It doesn't take much. I craft pieces like the Freedom Riders Advocate bracelet and the Crying Tree so you can speak up without so much as saying a word.

I'm proud of these activists and I'm proud of the bracelet. My dream is for many a wrist at every march...on Washington, in Ferguson, in Louisville, in Detroit, in brandish this history. And, ultimately, for every activist and advocate out there to discover what we can still learn from them.

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