Standing Tall While Seated

Today I would lobby hard for the church to remember and honor a modern saint who was able to stand tall while still being seated: Rosa Parks, Activist and Inspiration.

Rosa Parks was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama to a teacher and a carpenter, and at a young age learned how to work well with her hands, making quilts and dresses on her own. She attended some secondary school, but primarily worked to help care for ill family members. One of her earliest memories was having to walk to school, because the school bus was reserved for white children, and how when the KKK marched down her street in front of her house, her grandfather took up post at the front door with a shotgun.

These memories left a mark.

Rosa married Raymond, a barber and NAACP member in 1932. At her husband’s urging, she finished her High School studies, and in 1943 was elected secretary of their local NAACP chapter, having become an active member herself. Even within the NAACP chapter in Alabama she was a trailblazer, being the only woman in active leadership. In her work there she aided investigations on rape, unlawful incarceration, and discrimination. She eventually was trained at the famous Highlander Folk School on Monteagle, Tennessee, and was able to successfully register to vote on her third attempt.

Her third attempt.

Louder for folx in the back because we continue to see voter intimidation and racially-tinged roadblocks put in place still today…the issue has morphed, it hasn’t disappeared.

To get around Montgomery, Parks walked or took the bus. Now, in 1900 Alabama had passed a law that bus segregation was up to the discretion of the driver. They could assign certain rows as “colored” rows, and increase or decrease the rows depending on their whims.

They could even just remove the sign altogether, making the whole bus for white people only.

Rosa boarded a bus one day, paid the same as the rest of the passengers, but was told by the driver, a James F. Blake, that she had to exit and enter from the rear door. When she exited to enter from the rear door, Blake put the bus in gear and took off before she could board, robbing her of her fare and leaving her in a downpour.

He could take her fare, but she vowed that he would never again rob her of her dignity.

On December 1st in 1955 after working a full day, Rosa Parks got on a bus at 6pm and sat in the first row reserved for people of color. It was the 11th row in a long bus, the first ten rows being reserved for white passengers. As the bus went on its route, the first ten rows began to fill. The driver that day was familiar to Rosa…it was James F. Blake, and at the third stop he moved the segregation sign three rows back, telling a number of passengers that they had to give up their seats for white patrons.

Three of her fellow passengers moved, but Rosa just scooted toward the window, freeing up space but refusing to relocate toward the back of the bus. Blake noticed Rosa refused to stand and relocate and said that, if she did not, he would call the authorities to have her arrested.

“You may do that,” Rosa said plainly.

Now, some try to soften this story by saying that Rosa was “tired,” and didn’t want to give up her seat due to fatigue. But in her own account she refutes that softening noting that she wasn’t physically tired, but rather that she was tired of being treated as a second class citizen, and tired of having her humanity stripped away.

“I was tired of giving in,” she said.

Parks was arrested, and the incident effectively kicked off the Montgomery bus boycott. In rain or shine, the black community banded together and refused to give a nickel to the unjust system for 381 days as the official case slowly worked through a cumbersome courts system. It was eventually deemed unconstitutional to segregate the buses in this way.

Parks became an icon in the Civil Rights movement working to elect black leaders (John Conyers), fought for women’s rights (serving on the board of Planned Parenthood), and lobbying for those unjustly incarcerated. All the while she received death threats and continual persecution, even having to leave Montgomery directly after her arrest because she could not find work due to her national standing.

Yet, she persisted.

In 1987 she co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development (note the name order!) which helps to teach young people about the importance of Black history and the Civil Rights movement (which continues on).

She died on this day in 2005 at the age of 92.

Rosa Parks is a reminder for me, and should be for everyone, that the fact that something is legal does not make it just, and sometimes you have to stand tall in a situation even if it means keeping your seat.

-historical bits from public sources

-icon “Rosa Parks Iron Man” written by Bart Cooper, an ode to her fortitude

2 thoughts on “Standing Tall While Seated

  1. Hi Timothy,

    I love your work and read your posts daily…

    You might be intrigued to know that Rosa’s action was a part of a well planned strategy to kick off the bus boycott intentionally: this wasn’t a happenstance. It changed everything for me when I learned that, making her more than just deciding in the moment but rather a savvy, strategic, networked powerhouse.



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