Monday, January 16, 2012

52 Week 3 - Rosa Parks: Brave

A portrait of Quiet dignity
There are some people that I’ve always known. I couldn’t even really tell you exactly when I first heard of them. As far as I can remember, I’ve always known and admired Rosa Parks. Growing up, I have the fondest memories of visiting my grandparents during summer vacations. What I loved most was their extensive library. I can still remember the slightly musty smell, the rigid spines and how amazing it would feel to crack open a new book. The shelves were filled with amazing tales of great heroes, warriors, myths, and legends. Even at my young age, something about Rosa Park’s story was captivating. It would have been captivating enough if it were fiction, but the fact that it happened, and not that far ago in time, makes it more remarkable. 

To be considered a second-class citizen in a country of your birth must be a terrible feeling. The long, sordid history of segregation, particularly in public transportation in many parts of the US is known. History cannot soften the sharp edges of Jim Crow and history cannot deny the quiet dignity of the multitude of people who opposed it.

Rosa Park’s Quiet dignity in a lot of ways made her an ideal challenger to the bus segregation laws of that time. To face second-class treatment, year after year and yet maintain such an air of calm serenity is something few can manage. She was not the first to refuse to give up her seat, but her biography and her personality made her uniquely qualified to be the face of the movement that resisted the system. An evil system needs multitudes of ‘ordinary’ people to go along with it passively; the bus drivers who asked the Black passengers to move, the White passengers who snatched the ill-gotten relief from having to stand, everyone was responsible. As well, resistance needs a few good people who are tired of giving in, and a few others to stand with them. Sometimes something as simple as sitting down can be the most radical act of all and civil disobedience is a powerful thing.  Her act of public defiance spawned the Montgomery Bus Boycott and made her an international icon of resistance to Jim Crow. She received a multitude of honours and upon her death in 2005, she became the first woman to be laid in honour at the US Capitol Rotunda. Her autobiography, ‘My Story’ makes for a gripping, fascinating read and I highly recommend it. It shows that her work in the civil rights movement didn’t end after that fateful day, but continued with the quiet efficiency and calm serenity that was her way. May her soul forever rest in peace.

She is a reminder to me everyday to never allow myself to be relegated to the back, be it a bus or in life.

Best quote:
People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day...No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

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