Thanks, Sister Rosa Parks

Listen to the Story

Yesterday was the 53rd anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. This quite woman’s denunciation of the racist social mores of her time sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system–and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Park’s arrest was the final straw for Montgomery’s black community that led to the boycott–and catapulted the new minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church onto the national and world stage — Rev. Martin Luther King.

Parks, who was a seamstress and secretary of the local NAACP, did not set out that day to change the world. She’s quoted as saying that,” I did not get on the bus to get arrested; I got on the bus to go home.”

Wow, just thinking about how she must have felt that day gives me goosebumps. She was just tired and wanted to sit down—and then she lands in jail.

It’s hard for many people to imagine the daily indignities of segregation in the south–and in the north. Even though Ms. Rosa’s act happened a couple of years before I was born, I do have memories of segregation that have never left me.

I grew up in Memphis in the 1960′s. I still remember sitting in the balcony of the movie theater, not knowing that’s where black people had to sit. Another memory comes from the time my mother took me to a department store restroom. You could still see the word “colored” bleeding through the freshly painted bathroom door.

What strikes me now is not sitting in the balcony or the faint imprint of a word on the door, but the fact that my mother and her peers still followed those ingrained rules, despite the fact that segregation was outlawed. It took a while for them to really believe it was really safe to take advantage of their new equality and freedom.

Fast-forward fifty-three years later to the election of Barack Obama as our 44th president. As we wrap up 2008, all of us, black, white, yellow and brown, are looking forward to better times in 2009. Since the election of Barack Obama, there is an electric excitement in the air. Everyone I know, even some my republican friends, are giddy with expectation. Who will be in the Obama cabinet? Can he stop the downward spiral of the economy? What kind a puppy will Malia and Sasha get?

Barack Obama would not be possible without that act of defiance on December 1, 1955. Thank you Rosa Parks for showing us that you do not have to be rich or famous to change the world you just have to be strong enough to seize the opportunity to fight injustice–when you just want to go home.

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