Rosa Parks talk mesmerizes audience at CNCC | CraigDailyPress.com

Rosa Parks talk mesmerizes audience at CNCC

Michael Neary

Becky Stone, a storyteller and actor who lives in North Carolina, spoke as Rosa Parks Thursday morning on the Craig campus of Colorado Northwestern Community College.

— A person could be forgiven, on Thursday at Colorado Northwestern Community Col-

lege, for checking to see if Rosa Parks had truly passed away in 2005. She seemed to be present in the room, and she was very much alive.

Becky Stone, an actor and storyteller who lives in Asheville, N.C., came to the college to speak in the persona of Rosa Parks, and about 50 people sat enraptured. Peaking as Parks, Stone cajoled and questioned with a conversational ease that might have been missing from the historical accounts people in the audience had encountered in the past.

Stone described Parks' famous bus ride in 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white man, but she also supplied context. Speaking in character, Stone recalled the way Parks encountered the same bus driver 12 years earlier — and she noted, too, the fact a woman named Claudette Colvin had also been arrested for not giving up her seat. Stone mentioned other women, as well.

Stone carefully set the scene of Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus driver, she explained, had shouted for Parks and several other African American passengers to give up their seats.

"Things got really quiet on the bus," she said. "You know how it is when something like that's supposed to happen."

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Stone explained the way she, or Parks, told the bus driver she would not stand up. She then described Parks' arrest, along with the phone call she was eventually allowed to make to her husband.

"I called Parks, and he answered the phone," she said, and then added: "My husband's name is Raymond, but I always called him Parks."

Stone also described, Parks' work with Martin Luther King Jr. and others who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She then fielded questions from the audience as Parks, stepped off stage and returned as herself to entertain more questions.

After the presentation, Stone said she immersed herself in scholarship about Rosa Parks to absorb the smallest nuances of her character — such as the fact she called her husband "Parks."

"Anything I found in the library that indicated it had just a chapter or a page about Rosa Parks, I would go to," Stone said.

Stone said when she first started doing the performances, she'd present details more formally and chronologically, but eventually, that changed.

"As I did it over time, I realized that when we're talking with people, we jump back and forth," she said.

Stone also does performances in which she takes on the character of Harriet Tubman and Pauli Murray, a less well-known figure who was a poet, civil rights leader, women's rights advocate and the first African American woman to become an Episcopal priest.

Stone, who earned a bachelor of arts in drama from Vassar College and a master of arts in elementary educational counseling from Villanova University, came to the college with the help of the Colorado Humanities organization. Her visit was part of Black History Live, an annual recognition each February of contributions made by people with African American heritage, according to the Colorado Humanities website.

Betty Jo Brenner, program coordinator for Colorado Humanities, was especially pleased with the interaction that took place between audience members and Stone. Brenner noted questions posed to Stone about Jim Crow laws and interactions with African Americans by those of a different race.

"What touched me was the fact that they felt it was safe to express these feelings," she said. "That's where it all begins."

One of the people in the audience was Tony Santistevan, a massage therapy student at CNCC. Santistevan said the presentation was especially valuable in a region far removed from the civil rights struggles in which Parks participated.

"It's definitely teaching us what really happened," he said.

Stone was scheduled to perform at the Rangely campus later in the day.