Helen Thomas Takes Her Seat at the Front of the Bus

Helen Thomas Takes Her Seat at the Front of the Bus

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DEARBORN, Mich--Amidst a world that didn't allow it, on December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks took her seat and despite racist laws that told her she couldn't, she stayed seated. Those seats were reserved for white Americans and because of her refusal, she was arrested.

Her brave actions and arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a milestone in the Civil Rights Movement that protested racist laws and practices against African-Americans and ultimately rescued Americans from further denial of their civil liberties.

Today, following news of the Society of Professional Journalists executive committee's decision to recommend that an award in her name be renamed, Helen Thomas is faced with the same challenges. Expressing her opinion, an unpopular opinion in mainstream media, Thomas has been painted an Anti-Semite and stripped of the achievements that she had earned in her long and remarkable career as a journalist.

While blatant segregation laws are not the culprit, many Arab Americans believe that these latest actions against Helen Thomas are an attack on first amendment rights.

Professor Emerita of Anthropology from Wayne State, Barbara Aswad, says of Thomas, "She speaks from conviction, personal experience and has dedicated her distinguished and lengthy career to challenging US policies, particularly those in the Middle East. Her awards were well deserved and should not be rescinded," and adds, "She and Rosa were both brave and strong women who took risks for their convictions and greatly influenced social and political causes."

"Rosa Parks was jailed and maligned because of her stand for civil rights. She is now revered as the mother of the civil rights movement in America," says Ron Amen, community activist, "Helen should be and will become the standard bearer for freedom of speech and be a beacon to journalists to return to their rightful place in society as the guardians of that freedom."

Thomas, who has long been vocal about issues affecting Arab-Americans including the War on Iraq and Palestine, has had her own experiences with being forced to sit in the back. During the Bush Administration, she was moved to the back row of the press room apparently because she no longer represented a news agency.

However, Thomas continued to speak just as Rosa Parks continued. Rosa Parks served as a remarkable leader in the Civil Rights Movement, following through on her actions, saying of her work with the NAACP, "It was more a matter of trying to challenge the powers that be, and to let it be known that we did not wish to continue being second-class citizens."

"Helen Thomas spent her life standing up to the very powers Rosa Parks sat down to protest," comments Abbas Alawieh, student at the University of Michigan, "Just as Rosa Parks rebelled against the unjust norm by refusing complacency regarding the marginalization of black Americans, Helen Thomas dedicated her life to serving as a voice of reason and honesty in a media system that too often promotes dishonest coverage, and she did so for the benefit of all Americans."

Many know of Helen Thomas as the spry woman at the front of the White House briefing room, asking those questions that many Americans, not just Arab-Americans, would like to have answered. Her questions challenged many administrations from the Eisenhower administration to the Obama administration.

Arab-American students grew up to stories of the civil rights movement, learning about the importance of the role of Rosa Parks' actions on that December day. Shaza Al-Holou, medical student, likens growing up with stories of Helen Thomas. "It was an inspiration growing up and seeing a passionate Arab-American like Helen Thomas, who was well-accomplished and recognized for her achievements."

Thomas, though no longer occupying her seat at the front of the White House briefing room, has taken her seat at the front of the bus. Refusing to move despite being a target of many attacks on her character and career, she has resumed her work as a journalist with a column in the Falls Church News-Press. Helen Thomas writes on.