With so much hatred today, we need to remember where we come from, who we are as people, and why leaders like MLK and Rosa Parks fought against social injustice. At the heart of the war for equality today, we often overlook a simple truth. This truth undergirded the actions of social justice warriors like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and William Wilberforce. It’s simply that we as people are created with equal worth in the image and likeness of God.
If we neglect this universal standard of human worth, then history will repeat itself. The persecution of certain individuals and nationalities will continue to stain the pages of human history. I look back and reflect on the brutality of the Holocaust, the persecution of African Americans, and the millions enslaved and slaughtered under the Soviet regime. We should not bury the past, but study it and remember it. It seems evident that the most unjust laws and actions of the past have been centered on an utter disregard for human life.
While these periods of history baffle and frighten me, I remain encouraged due the stories of leaders who did not remain silent and who took a stand for truth.
On this day, December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks violated state law by taking a ‘white man’s seat’ at the front of a bus. Most of us know the story, but we don’t know the thoughts of the woman behind it. We also forget that this was merely one of many unlawful social norms and regulations of the time. It’s clear that laws are only as good as the ideologies that frame them. Yet thankfully, Rosa believed that God’s laws are higher than mans’.
Yet, aside from the flurry of articles posted about her today, I was curious what Rosa herself had to say.
I delved into the archives of the Library of Congress and found Rosa Park’s personal writings, penned after 1955. Her passion for justice and her heart for others seemed to merge under the banner of one simple truth — that equality of worth is not defined by others, but comes from God.
Rosa wrote: “Our needs — Faith in God…belief in the integrity of our fellow man, Christian love for all God’s children.”
Years later in an interview with Larry King, she was asked about the wrongs committed against her: “Are you bitter over it?”
She replied, “No, I’m not. Not at this time.” She continued, “Well, in fact, during the protests in Montgomery, I had some white people who joined with us, and they suffered a great deal. I have felt, and in fact, Dr. Martin Luther King used to say himself, ‘It is not a black and white issue, but it was right and wrong.'”
Some of my favorite heroes of history were ordinary people of great faith, who loved God, who loved others, and who fought tirelessly in defense of those unable to defend themselves. In our culture today, while we maintain a verve for social justice, we lack a deep and sincere love for our fellowman. We need more Rosa Parks. We need men and woman who fight, but fight for the right reasons and with the right heart. Violence will only breed more violence. In a world with so much hatred and destruction, we must look to the past and understand the truths that have been buried there. Then, perhaps, as we take a stand in the present for what’s good and just and true.
And so, as I look back on the words and actions of Rosa Parks, I look forward with great hope.