Today is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks made waves in Montgomery Alabama in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. What Rosa did that day sparked a movement resulting from pressure that had been building for almost 100 years.
African Americans, who had been freed from slavery by Abraham Lincoln, were forced to endure a century of contempt, disdain and abuse from white Americans. Our society, although founded by men who rejected the concept of social classes, was maintaining a dual class existence and legally forcing people of color to live a servile existence.
This was wrong.
By the power and grace of God, this finally changed in America as a result of the boycotts, rallies, legal wranglings, and efforts of the Federal Courts and finally Congress. Although one may believe strongly in the sovereignty of the states, clearly the rights of United States citizens was being abridged by the actions and/or inaction of many of those states, and the Federal government needed to act.
When I contemplate these events, it always amazes me that human beings can be so incredibly dysfunctional. It certainly makes greater sense to me to see an individual here or there who is so stupid that they actually think they are superior to others. But to think that large swathes of our society would actually continue to look down on others because of a history that is over two generations old, and especially in a time following the horrors of Nazi Germany, that they could continue to look upon other humans as just wild cattle that had been let loose and whose status as free men and women had to be tolerated. How could our country reach this point?
I think the answer to that question is somewhat complicated, but part of the answer come when people take a “not my problem” attitude to the issues surrounding us. We have a tendency to try to insulate ourselves from the problems in the world, especially if they do not impact us directly. It may come as a big shock, but we are selfish.
When in comes to injustice, one must consider two important points. One is that injustice, left unabated, will grow like a sore and devour us. A trivial wrong will lead to greater and greater wrongs until any of us might find ourselves in a class of people whose liberties are stripped from us and where radical evil imposing itself unabated in the name of the “needs of society”. Any of us could end up metaphorically segregated.
The second is more important than the first. Our prime directive, so to speak, should be to do what is right. Allowing anyone or any class of people to suffer injustice or to relinquish their liberty without due process is just wrong. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (believed to be Edmond Burke, 18th century), is a mantra for understanding both the easy growth of evil and the key to resisting its continued advance, that is, we must stand in its way. One white man (a Lutheran pastor named Robert Graetz) in Montgomery helped the black leaders in their efforts. He didn’t need to, but he knew it was right.
Rosa and Robert both set an amazing standard for us in the midst of a dangerous time and set an unprecedented set of events in motion that dramatically changed our country for the better. We should not have had to learn this lesson. We should already have known that we cannot stand idly by and allow injustice to foment… we must be vigilant, and we must act to protect our rights and the rights of everyone in our great country. Anything less is cowardly. Anything less is dishonorable. Anything less will end the American experiment.