The Wisdom of Rosa Parks
In her autobiography, ‘My Story’, Rosa Parks said:
“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.”
And so, the legend of Rosa Parks began.
Most of us are not aware, but Mrs. Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her bus seat. Bayard Rustin, did in 1942, Irene Morgan in 1946, Lillie Mae Bradford in 1951, Sarah Louise Keys in 1952 all did the same thing.
What was different? Rosa Parks was more prepared to resist. She was educated and well-respected in her community. She was a member of Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and had training from the Highlander Folk School, an education center for activism in workers’ rights and racial equality. There she was mentored by the veteran organizer Septima Clark.
She was tired of giving in to the constant message that she was less. She knew that she was a woman, and, more than that, a child of God. She was raised in the A.M.E. church, her grandmother read the Bible to her and her grandfather prayed with her. She knew who she was – not a “colored girl” who was to move to the back of the bus but a woman, a child of God, who could sit at the front. Definitely a Unitic!
Her simple act of defiance against racial segregation on city buses that December 1st, inspired the African American community of Montgomery, Alabama, to unite against the segregationists who ran City Hall.
So, on Sunday, December 4, 1955, plans for the Montgomery bus boycott were announced at black churches in the area, and a front-page article in the Montgomery Advertiser helped spread the word. At a church rally that night, those attending agreed unanimously to continue the boycott ‘until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected, until black drivers were hired, and until seating in the middle of the bus was handled on a first-come basis.’
Have you had that moment in time, when you must have the courage to move forward, even if fear has taken over your being?
I’m sure you have, but we persevere. WE do what is ours to do,
Rosa Parks stated:
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
Those folks who have been demonstrating since the death of George Floyd, May 25th, must have chosen to follow their hearts desire and stand for what they believed to be a Truth.
I am sure that they face fear every time they stand up to the militia peacefully, never knowing what the response would be. Yet they do what they have deemed what is theirs to do,
I pray when my time comes, when I have choices to make, I might have the courage to act out of the strength and the convictions of my faith.
In Jeremiah 29:11 – it states, “Do not be afraid.” One of over 50 times in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, are the words – “Do not be afraid.” Whether they come from God, from angels, or from Jesus, these words are said in love and in encouragement.
In other words, God is calling us to be steadfast, even when we are fearful. Yet, how many times do we stop ourselves from doing what is right because we are afraid? We are afraid of failing, we are afraid of being laughed at, but mostly I think we’re afraid to change. We’re afraid of what will happen in our lives if we take the leap, or more to the point, sit still. Think about that…are you afraid of change?
I recently read a story where the characters were asked to “live a life without hesitation.”
What a wonderful idea…keep that thought in the back of your mind for our meditation….
Live a life without hesitation. This is what Rosa Parks did that day in December. That day, Rosa Parks had had enough of living a life that someone else had decided she should live. She took a seat on a bus and was steadfast in her right as a human being, as God’s beloved child, to stay there, even though she was being told to move. She didn’t hesitate.
What lessons can we learn from Montgomery Alabama in December 1955? From a bus boycott that lasted 381 days.
We can learn the lesson that even the smallest acts count.
We can stop telling ourselves: I can’t do very much. I don’t have lots of time or money; I’m no organizer. What little bit I could do wouldn’t count for much, so what’s the use? Why write a letter? Why go to another meeting?
We do what is ours to do.
We can learn from what happened in Montgomery that all successful movements are made up of countless, unsung individuals who engage in thousands of single, often small, acts of courage and resistance every day.
The boycott was won not by Rosa Parks but by those who walked to work in the December cold, those who drove others to work, the ones who ran the mimeograph machines, who answered the telephones, those who were spat on and called names and did not respond in kind.
Movements are the sum total of numerous individuals, often anonymous acts. We are not in a position to judge whether our smallest action on behalf of a better world counts or does not count. All we can do is act in accordance with our conscience and leave the results to history.
When people look back at these times of the marches for equality, what will they learn from what our choices are presenting to each of us. What actions did we take and why?
In 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, the first four rows of bus seats were reserved for white people. Buses had “colored” sections for black people—who made up more than 75 % of the bus system’s riders—generally in the rear of the bus. These sections were not fixed in size but were determined by the placement of a movable sign. Black people also could sit in the middle rows, until the white section was full. Then they had to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people were not allowed to sit across the aisle from white people. The driver also could move the “colored” section sign or remove it altogether.
The day of Rosa Parks’ trial—Monday, December 5, 1955—the Women’s Political Counsel distributed 35,000 leaflets. The handbill read, “We are…asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial…. You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday.”
It rained that day, but the black community persevered in their peaceful boycott. Some rode in carpools, while others traveled in black-operated cabs that charged the same fare as the bus, 10 cents. Most of the remainder of the 40,000 black commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles. In the end, the boycott lasted 381 days. Dozens of public buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus transit company’s finances, until the law requiring segregation on public buses was lifted.
When asked about the bus boycott, a young Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices…. Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.'”
What are you willing to remain steadfast about so that you can change your life and the life of this planet?
We will always have choices, and the key is in knowing our oneness.
Self-respect starts with our connection, with knowing our oneness with God. It’s up to us to take a stand for our spiritual growth.
What are you willing to boycott so that your life will be transformed?
Are you willing to boycott resentment, unforgiveness, unworthiness?
Are you willing to boycott fear?
Are you willing to look inside and see where you have been living something that someone else has decreed for you?
This is not just a Black Lives Matter issue. Spirituality knows no skin color.
Your Spirit is asking What matters”?
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find worthy direction for us in moving forward:
I therefore … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—Ephesians 4:1-3
I leave you with this quote by Rosa Parks: You must never be fearful about what you are doing when what you are doing is right.