Rosa Parks, MLK, and the Genesis of Change

Thomas Griffin (7/21/20)

Numerous groups and individuals are neglecting history. We are told that people are outraged and want dramatic change. Mob rule desires to run the show and re-write history. Remembering the pivotal players of the past that brought about positive reform in noble manners is tantamount for the success of the coming months. Let us recall a moment that all aisles of opinion, political parties, and common sense can learn from. All desire reform in our personal lives, families, communities, and nation on some level. Ms. Parks shows us the path forward.

It was December 1, 1955 in Alabama. Rosa Parks was taking the bus home after a long day at work and she was tired. The front section of the bus was labeled the “white section” and it was almost completely full because of the amount of riders that day. The bus pulled into another stop and men got on the bus who were demanding to sit in the “white section.”

The bus driver yelled over at Ms. Parks to get, and move to the “colored section.” There were other riders next to Rosa Parks who were also told to move that stop. They all agreed and moved their seats to their “proper” section while Rosa refused to move even after the bus driver told her she would be arrested. She was not going to allow injustice, ignorance, and idiocy win that morning. 

The whole concept that Rosa Parks would not move against is completely irrational and quite ridiculous. The understanding that people should be divided up, and viewed as having less dignity because of the color of their skin is not congruent with any logical argument. Most of the challenges that people face in life are not a product of a math equation or a logical conclusion. Many circumstances of decision-making are placed before humanity that simply do not add up; they are quite frankly unfair. Sometimes situations that people are placed in are downright evil. 

In 1960, Parks wrote a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about the civil rights movement. After a delayed response, King wrote to “the mother of the civil rights movement” and said, “In the midst of constant harassment and intimidation because of my involvement in the civil right struggle I often find myself asking, ‘Is it worth it?’ ” King writes. “But then a friend of good will comes along with kind and encouraging words that gives me renewed vigor and courage to carry on. Your letter serves such a purpose.” When it appears that we cannot move forward, and despair creeps in to win the day, we must recall the greatness of those who trailed the path before us. We must never give up.

In the face of evil we must fight with a discipline and perseverance that is unrelenting. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the phrase, “legitimate and unavoidable impatience,” in regards to rising tensions surrounding injustice. King’s method never employed violence nor destruction, but simply an unrelenting peaceful position that rejected actions that viewed African Americans as second-class citizens. The issues with the current affairs in this country is that countless numbers of individuals believe that victory for equality will come about through violence and destruction. They’re answering evil for evil, and the practical implications of this method are being played out in full, for the entire world to watch. 

How will we respond to the injustices of racism, violence and mob rule? What will we do when asked to move our position on the proverbial bus to appease the powers the be? There were three other individuals that morning who sat near Rosa Parks in the front of the bus. They moved, instantly, when the bus driver asked them too. Their decision to get up left Rosa in a position of freedom and opportunity. 

Was she going to be the only one who did not move? If the others don’t think it’s a big deal should she really think that it is? In her mind, she was tired and she most certainly thought that this request was ridiculous. So, she made a decision that she was not going to move, and she refused to move despite the daunting threats that surrounded her. 

She isn’t famous because she made a quick decision to not get up that only lasted a minute; she is famous because she made a decision and she did not look back. Her choice came from a place of refusal; a refusal to adhere to the ridiculous nature of the evil being imposed upon her. Once she made that courageous decision it was her discipline and unwillingness to give in that carried her through to becoming a hero and giving hope to Martin Luther King.

Let us learn from history; let us learn from Rosa Parks. The woman who had a legitimate and unavoidable impatience for the injustice that occurred to her and the woman who had the discipline to act nobly and courageously. No matter the side of the debate you find yourself on, Rosa personifies the character needed for true change to reign: unrelenting and peaceful impatience. That is the genesis of real reform.

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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