Her courage challenged, defined a nation
Published 8:14 pm Thursday, November 10, 2005
One of the highlights of my work life has been getting to talk to and write about the late Rosa Parks.
For a southern white girl who remembers the separate entrances and waiting rooms for "white" and "colored" at the doctors' offices as a child growing up in Mississippi, getting to meet and talk with Rosa Parks was something very special for me.
Thanks to a good friend here, I was given a heads-up she was traveling to Niles to visit Franklin A.M.E. Church with her Detroit church's youth group.
It was a Sunday afternoon in October 1992 when I got the call, and I could hardly contain myself for the rest of the day.
When I arrived at the church that early evening, there she was. So petite, so proper. I always thought her hair was beautiful when I had seen her on television. My grandmother had long, flowing white hair, too, and I thought they favored each other. Mrs. Parks' hair was even more beautiful in person.
She was soft-spoken, nothing aggressive or assertive about her. As we sat and talked, I remember thinking to myself, how could this one woman, so small and so dignified, have mustered the courage to stand her ground with big, threatening white men - these supposed southern gentlemen?
The depth of her courage and conviction defy my imagination.
Mrs. Parks told me it wasn't so much that she was tired after working all day in Montgomery, Ala. It was more that she was tired of being treated like a second-class citizen, she said.
"Everyone always stresses how I was tired that day, and I was. But that was just part of it," she said. "I had had trouble with that bus driver before and (having to ride in the back of the bus) was just one of the things I was working on in my life at that time.
"They wanted you to pay your fare then get off the bus, go around to the back and get in. But they had a habit of going off and leaving before you could get in," Mrs. Parks said.
On Dec. 1, 1955 - a Thursday - Mrs. Parks got off work and got onto a Montgomery bus.
"We had gone a little while and then the bus made a stop. Some more white people got on the bus," and there were no more seats in the front for them to sit, she said. One white man was left standing.
She said four blacks were seated in the first row they were allowed to sit in, in the rear of the bus. Mrs. Parks, one of the four, was sitting on the aisle. When three others got up to give the man a seat, she moved over to the window to allow the man a seat next to her.
"The man never asked me to move," she said. However, the bus driver asked her to leave her seat. She refused.
The gentle Southern lady said she wasn't afraid during the incident, just frustrated.
"I didn't actually feel fear. It was that I had so much to do later that evening and going to jail was an inconvenience."
Thank God for all of us that one petite, soft-spoken, dignified, gracious woman simply had had enough.
Thank God Rosa Parks was tired that day, tired from a hard day's work and tired of being denied the respect she and her fellow citizens were denied because of ignorance and hate.
We have all benefited from this one gentle woman's simple act of courage.
She'd had enough. And because of that, we all live richer, freer lives as Americans.