A social media post about a passenger on Rosa Parks’ bus is satire

The story of Rosa Parks is a milestone in American civil rights history.

On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., during the era of legalized racial segregation across the South, Parks, a Black woman, was arrested and fined for refusing a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white male passenger. Her arrest led to the Montgomery Bus boycott, a turning point in the civil rights movement that led the Supreme Court to order the desegregation of Montgomery’s buses.

But a Facebook post added an eyebrow-raising plot twist: “The Rosa Parks story gets more complicated when we acknowledge that the white man who wanted her seat was suffering from ADHD and anxiety.” 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) It originated from a tweet that appeared to confuse many people who were unsure whether it was for real.

“I have ADHD and anxiety,” one person replied. “I have never in my life even felt remotely compelled to tell someone to get up from their seat at any public place because ‘I deserve it more.’”

“Maybe I need tone tags, cause this fooled me,” wrote another Twitter user, referring to symbols or codes that help to convey the tone of a message.

The author of the Twitter post, Charles Austin, cleared things up: It was meant as satire.

“I think a good rule of thumb when people see a post like that is just to check what that person’s other recent tweets are like,” Austin told PolitiFact. “If all my other tweets from that time are stuff like ‘cigarettes are vegetarian,’ it should be clear it’s satire.” 

Austin said he wrote the tweet to mock social media users who post these types of statements for real.

“The joke is ultimately about the tortured logic people use on social media to justify abhorrent opinions using language that is ostensibly inclusive and empathetic: we must ‘acknowledge’ the ‘suffering’ of the guy who’s clearly in the wrong,” Austin said.

Lopez D. Matthews, digital librarian at Howard University who specializes in Black history, said that kind of logic has been invoked against civil rights throughout history.

“Those who were anti-civil rights would claim that by granting civil rights protections, you were taking away the rights of people who wanted to discriminate,” Matthews said.

Historical records, including accounts from both Parks and Blake, don’t identify the passenger whom Parks was ordered to move for. Donna Beisel, assistant director of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, said the only public information available about the man is that he and the others who boarded at the same time had come from the Empire and Paramount theaters. 

In any case, ADHD and anxiety weren’t officially recognized as diagnoses by the American Psychiatry Association until the 1980s and early 1990s, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Records in the National Archives say Parks was seated in the row just behind the section reserved for white people. When the bus became full, Blake ordered Parks and three other Black passengers to give their seats up for the white passengers. Parks refused, and Blake called to have her arrested. 

Blake said in an interview years later that Parks was in violation of city codes. 

“What was I supposed to do?” Blake said. “That damn bus was full and she wouldn’t move back. I had my orders. I had police powers — any driver for the city did. So the bus filled up and a white man got on, and she had his seat and I told her to move back, and she wouldn’t do it.”

Parks recounted the story in an interview on “The Merv Griffin Show,” which was posted in a clip to YouTube. Parks said Blake told her and the other Black passengers to “make it light” on themselves and give up their seats so the man could sit. Parks refused.

“Living under that type of oppression, I didn’t feel like it was making it light on us or anyone else for me to stand up,” Parks said. “So I didn’t.” 

Our ruling 

A social media post said that the white man who wanted Rosa Parks’ seat on the bus was suffering from ADHD and anxiety. The author of the post said it was satire. 

Historical records have limited information about who the passenger was on the bus. 

We rate this claim False.

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