This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Rosa Parks
“I had not
planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail.
But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt
that we had endured that too long.”
Today is the 100th birthday of the woman many describe as “the
mother of the Civil Rights Movement”, Rosa Parks. That kind epithet acknowledges Parks’ role in
starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott which launched the national career of
Martin Luther King Jr. and is often seen as the first example of a new type of
civil rights struggle. At the same time, though, viewing Parks as a matronly figure reinforces the false idea that Parks was an accidental heroine.
Many of us now have an image of Parks as an old woman (she
lived into her 90s) who was so exhausted and worn down that by December 1955,
she just couldn’t muster the energy to move further back on the public bus she
rode home. In reality, the actions Parks
became famous for were in no way accidental. Parks was a longtime community
activist and, in her early 40s, vibrant, strong and defiant. Parks was
perfectly aware that she would suffer the public humiliation of an arrest and
would likely suffer long term consequences for her actions. In fact, Parks was
fired from her job.
Part of what I hope folks can take a moment to acknowledge
is that when Rosa Parks began her personal fight against the segregation of the
bus system, she was doing it on her own. There was no plan to create a boycott
of the buses. There was no Montgomery Improvement Association. There was no
guarantee that Parks would even be supported by the Black community in
Montgomery. Rosa Parks fought against an unjust system, not because she knew
she would win but because she knew the system was unjust. For that she deserves
to be richly celebrated.
Today I am grateful for Rosa Parks. You should be too.