Paul Revere and Rosa Parks – Under-Appreciated Heroes
I was speaking about Paul Revere and during the Q&A I was asked, “What person in American history would you compare Paul Revere to?” Answering quickly, without much thought, I replied “Rosa Parks.” My answer caught the audience off guard and it was fun playing out the thought for them. After a little more reflection, I realized that the comparison was a very good one, even if it is not immediately obvious. On the surface a white, northern, male, 18th century Patriot and an African American, southern, female Civil Rights activist are very different. But look a little deeper and you will see how much Paul Revere and Rosa Parks have in common.
Paul Revere and Rosa Parks
Paul Revere and Rosa Parks are names immediately familiar to almost all Americans. They have a cultural significance that allows them to be remembered even though many of their contemporaries have been forgotten. However, to the average American who doesn’t think much about history, Paul Revere and Rosa Parks both seem to appear out of nowhere on one day, do something great, and then disappear the next day. Nothing could be farther from the truth for either of them, but that’s the way high school history books and popular culture portray them.
Paul Revere – Patriot with a Purpose
Paul Revere is, of course, remembered for his “midnight ride.” His courageous actions on that dangerous night were made famous in the poem by Longfellow. Since then, any cartoon showing the person in a tri-corner hat and shouting while riding a galloping horse immediately brings to mind Paul Revere. Once, on the Andy Griffith show, when children were complaining that “history is boring,” Sheriff Andy told them an incredibly dramatic and completely ludicrous account of Paul Revere’s ride. They immediately wanted to learn more history! Paul Revere seems to materialize on the day of the ride and then disappears from standard history books the next day. No mention is made of the fact that he had been risking his life for 10 years for the patriot cause, that he organized the first spy network in America according to the CIA, that he was an incredibly influential artist, or that after the midnight ride he helped organize an important gunpowder mill to help the colonies or that he became a very influential and innovative businessman.
The story of Paul Revere’s ride was quickly eclipsed by the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s stunning victory Crossing the Delaware to surprise the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton, and all of the other world-changing events of the Revolutionary War. The fact is that Paul Revere was an important leader in the patriot movement in Boston for years before his ride and contributed in many ways once the war began.
Rosa Parks – Patriot with a Purpose
Rosa Parks, like Paul Revere, seems to appear out of nowhere on December 1, 1955. In the public mind, she was just a “little old lady with tired feet” who sat down on a restricted bus seat and started an important part of the civil rights movement. Mrs. Parks often explained that she was neither old nor unaware on that date. Like Paul Revere, she had been deeply involved in the movement for freedom for many years before that day. She had been the secretary to the president of the Alabama NAACP and investigated many claims of racial abuse. She had participated in raising money for the Scottsboro boys and had been a very visible figure in the Alabama civil rights community. After her arrest, despite numerous death threats, Mrs. Parks stayed deeply involved in the movement. She devoted the rest of her life to helping others through her speeches, books, work, and activism. At times, she neglected herself to care for others. When her long life came to an end, she was mourned by a nation that was grateful, humbled and respectful.
Like Revere, her actions were quickly overshadowed by more dominant and forceful personalities. But her actions before and after her arrest showed her to be a woman of absolute, iron willed commitment.
Paul Revere and Rosa Parks Comparison
Paul Revere and Rosa Parks both stood up to oppressive forces that used military and police power to suppress civil rights. Each of them had a long history of commitment to the cause of personal freedom and civil rights. They were even very similar in age at the moments of their greatest fame; Paul Revere was 40 and Rosa Parks was 42. They were both married, both important citizens of their community, respected in their professions. Each was personally brave in the face of violence. Both of them faced arrest and death threats, both were captured and threatened. Each of them courageously opened the door for momentous offense that would change the nation. And both of them deserve the unending respect and gratitude of the USA.