Charles E. Richardson

It’s about more than special permits in a park named for Rosa

I’m probably the last person who needs to weigh in on whether alcohol sales should be permitted in Rosa Parks Square, for one basic reason: I have a hard time getting my pants in a wad over the issue. That said, I think I understand both sides and the cultural divide the issue has exposed — but not for the reasons many people have attached to it.

Some are blanketing the issue with the all-encompassing and familiar Hydra that lurks just below the surface of so many perplexing questions in Macon: Race. Certainly, there’s an element of race in everything here, but there is so much more going on.

Lets begin at the beginning. As with many issues in this town, sometimes it’s not the issue at all, it’s who brings it to the table. Whether right or wrong, many in the community discount, out of hand, anything Commissioner Elaine Lucas and former Mayor C. Jack Ellis, say. If they said the sky was blue on a clear day, some would look up to make sure it’s blue and then argue about what shade of blue.

Let me be crystal clear. We do not hold other politicians to the same rubric. I won’t give examples here, but you know I could. Doing that would only exacerbate the problem and get us off track and not address the issue at hand: Is it appropriate to issue permits to sell alcohol in Rosa Parks Square?

My answer is: I don’t know. Rosa Parks, God rest her soul, is not around to tell us. She passed in 2005 at the age of 92. I won’t assume to speak for her. However, the Library of Congress has all of her papers that include 7,500 items in the Manuscript Division, along with 2,500 photographs in the Prints and Photographs Division, that could give a clue about her feelings toward adult beverages. I haven’t taken the time to explore all of her papers, but it might be a good idea to do so before making grand pronouncements about her thoughts on the subject.

If you think for a minute that Parks was just a demur seamstress and her only act of heroism was on that Montgomery bus in December 1955, you would be way wrong. Her activism started in the early part of the 20th century when, in rural Alabama, she stayed up late at night with her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards, to thwart Klansmen who had a habit of coming through black communities torching homes and churches. Parks wrote of her memories, “I wanted to see him kill a Ku-Kluxer,” Her grandfather told her, “the first to invade our home would surely die.”

Back to the question at hand. Why isn’t this solely a question of race? Look who’s living downtown: Millennials of every stripe and color. As hard as it is for some to believe, they don’t carry the same baggage of my generation and even Gen Xers. Notice, I did not say all. But these folks, 35 and under, have attended integrated schools all their lives. Not to their credit, they have no concept of the world Rosa Parks grew up in and had to navigate. In fact, most would be repulsed by that world.

So if we want to honor and memorialize Parks for all of the right reasons, lets do so. Strip the personalities from the script on both sides and not ascribe motives that may or may not be true.

The least we can do is let an independent researcher at Mercer, Wesleyan, Middle Georgia State or Fort Valley find clues to her thinking about adult beverages.

All that said, the way we truly honor Rosa Parks is not by determining whether alcohol is served in a park named in her honor, it is by making sure generations now and in the future know what sacrifices she made so that the words said on August 26, 1963, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., come true.

“Let freedom ring,” not just from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire and the mighty mountains of New York or the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania or the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado and the curvaceous slopes of California. But also from Stone Mountain of Georgia and Lookout Mountain of Tennessee and every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside. Yes, let freedom ring, even from Rosa Parks Square in Macon-Bibb County, Georgia.