Mattel's Inspiring Women Series,
A promising addition to a collection that presents strong female role models to children.
Remembering the American Civil Rights Movement by focusing only on the most famous figures and events.
Each Barbie comes in packaging that tells the doll’s story – and this packaging could give a fuller tale of Parks’s activism. Mattel’s website now describes Parks as “a seamstress and dedicated activist leading up to December 1, 1955” – the date of her arrest for not giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. (The company had faced some criticism for an earlier claim that before December 1955 Parks “led an ordinary life as a seamstress.”)
Indeed, Parks had actively opposed racial injustice for decades and was the secretary for her local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (then the leading group promoting black rights in the US).
In 1955, she trained for two weeks at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a centre where a who’s who of civil rights leaders honed their skills. Even her refusal to give up her seat was not so surprising: black activists in Montgomery had complained about conditions on city buses several times in the years before 1955.
Nor was Parks the only strong woman in the story. After her arrest, a group called the Women’s Political Council played a vital role in pushing for a bus boycott. The boycott offers a great chance for Mattel to mention other empowered women who, like Parks, “paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.”
Making sense of the Civil Rights Movement
Mattel’s description of Parks’s life after 1955 reflects a widespread habit of presenting the Civil Rights Movement as having a neat and successful mid-1960s end point. Its website notes that after her protest, “it would still take another nine years and more struggles before the 1964 Civil Rights Act overruled existing segregations [sic] laws.”
In this story’s simplest form, African Americans like Parks took a stand against racial injustice, a mass social movement emerged, and then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law. These laws outlawed racial segregation in public life and provided meaningful support for black citizens who wanted to vote.
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