Sunday and Monday an amazing thing will happen in my country.
The body of a woman whose one, quiet act of defiance sparked the civil rights movement in the United States will lie in repose in the Capitol Rotunda. This high honor has been almost exclusively reserved for government officials and military leaders. She will be the first woman to ever do so and only the second African American.
I was elated to read that in the paper this morning. Here was a common person who never set out to be a hero. One afternoon in 1955, weary from her job as a seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man who wanted. The segregation laws at the time required blacks to yield their seats to any white person standing and move to the back of the bus. She simply refused. “The real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long.” For her simple protest she was jailed and fined $14.00. That sparked a boycott of the bus system in Montgomery Alabama that lasted for more than year and that launched the modern civil rights movement that brought greater equality in our country across racial lines.
What a great reminder of the avalanche of events that can come from one common person’s passion for justice and their willingness to risk themselves in doing so! Mostly people just quietly go along even when they know something isn’t right. I admire Rosa Parks for standing up to the status quo by remaining in her seat that day. Now she looks like a hero. I can’t imagine what she looked like then. Surely most of the whites would have turned on her for breaking the law and delaying their bus ride home. The bus driver probably screamed at her, and even some of the blacks might have called to her to just move and not make any trouble.
But she wouldn’t be denied. She paid for it then. But in doing so she opened a door of freedom that others have streamed through with joy. It’s not easy being the one to expose the king’s nakedness, but a little bit of truth goes a long way.
Our culture rarely honors those who truly deserve it. On Sunday and Monday this week we’ll get it exactly right. A 42-year old common woman, wearied of the abuse her people suffered, did what was in her heart to do and helped transform a nation. Hopefully her example will inspire many of us to go and do likewise!