On a Nice Woman

Louise was nice. Everyone said so. In 1957, facing increasing difficulty finding work in Alabama, Louise accepted an invitation from her brother’s family to move to Detroit, Michigan, and find work there. Jobs were plentiful, her brother said, and someone of her disposition and abilities (she had decent schooling) would have no trouble finding work. So, that’s what Louise did.

Now, you should know that Louise was African-American. Detroit, she thought, would also offer a less divided, less segregated society than the Alabama of the 1950s was. Sadly, Louise found out that Detroit was almost equally as racist and segregated as Alabama had been. For example, Louise experienced discrimination when it came to searching for adequate housing in metropolitan Detroit. On the other hand, her brother had been correct; Louise found work as a secretary and receptionist in the Detroit office of United States Congressman John Conyers, one of the first black officeholders from Michigan. It would be a position Louise held until she retired in 1988.

Even during her initial interaction with her boss, Conyers noticed one thing right off the bat about Louise, and it’s something we have already pointed out. She was simply so nice. “You treated her with respect,” the congressman said once, “because she was so calm, so serene, so special.” Louise was often the first point of contact for people reaching out to their congressional delegate, and she took every issue, every question, every appeal personally and seriously. You know that if Louise had her attention on your issue, that she would see to it that it would reach a conclusion that satisfied you.

It was her quiet way, her nicety, that made people open up to her and, well, want to help her any way they could. You knew your issue would be resolved when you brought it to Louise. In her role as Conyers’s spokesperson in the community, Louise visited schools, hospitals, nursing homes, low-income housing communities, jails, and churches, working in her own quiet way to affect change in the way people in that congressional district (and beyond) were treated.

All the while she worked long hours on other people’s behalf, Louise managed to nurse a husband with cancer and a mother with cancer and dementia until both passed away. She herself suffered health issues that she kept quiet and private, working through pain because, as she insisted, people were counting on her voice in carrying issues and situations before Congressman Conyers. She was also attacked by a robber in her own home in retirement, but in court she advocated for leniency for the robber. Who does that?

Someone who was nice.

When Louise passed away in 2005, her funeral was well attended despite the fact that it wasn’t held in Detroit nor even in her old home of Alabama. Louise’s funeral was held in Washington, D.C., and she remains only non-officeholder to have her body lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda. But this unique honor wasn’t because Louise was nice.

It’s because you know her better by her first name, Rosa.

Rosa Parks.


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