Activism, Beloved Community, Black History Month, Change, Civil Rights Movement, Community activism, Freedom, Injustice, Justice, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Persistence, Racism, Rosa Parks, Segregation, Social justice, Transformation, Transforming Injustice

A Birthday Celebration for Rosa Parks

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Celebrate with me the birthday of Rosa Parks! 

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4, 1913, she continues to be remembered in the hearts of the American people. What a “herstory” she lived! And how could I even begin to tell her story here? What we think we know about Rosa Parks, in fact, is more like a fairy tale than an accurate picture of the person she was and the powerful transformation she brought in the quest for racial justice.

Rosa Parks was not one to dwell on one event — one bus ride, one boycott, one street named after her — she instead set her “eyes on the prize” for the long haul. She was one persistent woman. She was a mentor to the young people who would ultimately see the prize of equal justice under the law. Rosa Parks was not just a woman to be remembered by holding down one seat on one bus on one day. Instead, she set her sights on the transformation of injustice and never stopped moving towards justice for all.

I cannot tell her story adequately, but I can point to some of her milestones . . .

In August of 1955, black teenager Emmett Till, visiting relatives in Mississippi, was brutally murdered after allegedly flirting with a white woman. Till’s two murderers had just been acquitted. Rosa Parks was deeply disturbed and angered by the verdict. Just four days after hearing the verdict, she took her famous stand on the Montgomery bus ride that cemented her place as a civil rights icon. She later said this when the driver ordered her to move, “I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.”

Rosa Parks sat in the black section, but when the white section filled up, the bus driver demanded that the four black passengers nearest the white section give up their seats. The other three black passengers reluctantly moved, but she did not. She recounted the scene: “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’”

Many people have imagined Rosa Parks on that bus as an old woman tired after a long day of work. Yet, in her autobiography, My Story, Parks writes, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” 

Rosa Parks endured significant hardships in her life, both during and after the boycott. She was unjustly fired from her department store job. She received an almost constant stream of death threats, so many that she eventually left Montgomery to seek work elsewhere, ultimately moving to Detroit. There she served as secretary and receptionist for Representative John Conyers, befriended Malcolm X, and became active in the Black Power movement.

In 1995, she published her memoir, Quiet Strength, focusing on her Christian faith.  She insisted that her abilities to love her enemies and stand up for her convictions were gifts from God: 

God has always given me the strength to say what is right. I had the strength of God, and my ancestors.

Rosa Parks died in 2005 at the age of 92 and she became the 31st person, the first woman, the second African American, and the second private citizen to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.

  • More than 50,000 people came through to pay their respects. 
  • Her birthday is celebrated as Rosa Parks Day in California and Missouri.
  • Ohio and Oregon celebrate the day on December 1, the anniversary of her arrest.

One last milestone of her remarkable story . . .

In 1994, the Ku Klux Klan applied to sponsor a section of Interstate 55 near St. Louis, Missouri, which would mean the Klan’s name would appear on roadside signs announcing the sponsorship. In 2001, the US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri cannot discriminate against the Ku Klux Klan when it comes to groups that want to participate in the adopt-a-highway program. Of course, while the name of the Klan is aesthetically disgusting to many people, this decision was a victory for free speech and equal protection under the law, right?

54FF516B-B94C-4ADC-AF10-4BE8CF2BF64BIn the end, the Missouri Department of Transportation got sweet revenge! Sure, they couldn’t  remove the KKK’s adopt-the-highway sign, but few would dispute the state’s ability to name the highway itself. So the KKK is now cleaning up their adopted stretch of the highway named by the Missouri legislature and christened as “Rosa Parks Highway.”

Rosa Parks did not crave the spotlight. Nor did she care all that much about highways and byways bearing her name. She probably did want to be known as a person who persisted in the struggle for racial justice. She told us that in these words:

I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.

You are remembered as such a person, Mrs, Rosa Parks! Happy birthday in heaven. You are our inspiration. You are one of our sheros, our wonder woman!

Beloved Community, Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights Movement, Courage, Good Trouble, In Memorium, John Lewis, Justice, Nonviolence, Perseverance, Persistence, Politics, Prophetic, Racism, strength, struggle, Tenacity

Remembering John Lewis

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Because I am a citizen of the state of Georgia, I can call him mine — my congressman, my conscience, my inspiration.

John Lewis
A warrior in building the soul of America

Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality, and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.*

Twice he was beaten to an inch of his life.

I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life.    — John Lewis

On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington — where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech — but Lewis was almost refused to be allowed to speak by march organizers because of his strident criticism of the Kennedy administration.

Lewis went on to serve 17 terms in the US House of Representatives, where he was considered the north star of conscience in Congress.**

Tributes to the life and legacy of John Lewis came from hundreds of voices.

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did,” former President Obama said in a written tribute. “And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, issued a statement that began, “We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis. How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said: “His courage helped transform this country. He won’t ever be forgotten by those who believe America can change when the people stand together and demand it.”

Sen. Kamala Harris of California said of Lewis, “He carried the baton of progress and justice to the very end. It now falls on us to pick it up and march on.” ***

And so we will, to honor his memory and to persist in the fight against injustice.


John Lewis.

America’s inspiration for getting into “good trouble”

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.
— A tweet from June 2018

I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation.  Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.
— At the 1963 March on Washington

Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.
From his 2017 memoir, “Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America”

My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.
— From a 2012 speech in Charlotte, North Carolina

You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant.
From his 2017 memoir, “Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America”

We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.
— At a 2016 House sit-in following the Pulse shooting in Orlando

When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something. Our children and their children will ask us, ‘What did you do? What did you say?’ For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.
— 2019 remarks in the House on impeachment of President Trump

 

May his words echo in our hearts and reach the soul of every American. 

May he rest in peace and — from above — inspire us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” as he did.

 

John Lewis
Servant of God and champion for justice, now called to his heavenly home

 

 
With thanks to:
* Katharine Q. Seelye, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/us/john-lewis-dead.html

** Ken Sehested, http://www.prayerandpolitiks.org/

*** Janet Hook, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-07-18/tributes-rep-john-lewis-dies-civil-rights