Content from RubelShelly.com
For the Week of October 31, 2005
by Rubel Shelly
Not everybody in the world is selfish and mean. It would be overly cynical to say that everybody is unkind. It would even be false to say that everybody is prejudiced toward his or her “own kind” or racist. But it is possible for mean, unkind, and racist sentiments to exist – even for us to institutionalize them by law.
In spite of the pride I take in being an American citizen, I am embarrassed by this country’s history of racist attitudes and behavior toward Native Americans, Africans brought here to be slaves, and other ethnic groups. Yes, progress has been made. But there are still problems. We dare not stop working on them.
Because of the color of my skin, I was born to privilege. I had educational and social options others did not have. As a child, I was born to a situation I did not create and did not know even existed. That was just the way things were. Then, when I was 10 years old, something happened that changed everything.
A 42-year-old woman on the fifth row of a bus chose to remain in her seat, when the bus driver demanded she give it up to a male passenger who had just boarded. The issue at stake in Montgomery, Alabama, that day was not male chivalry toward a woman. It was racial segregation. It was humiliation of a human being. It was unjust law. For the woman was black, and the man was white.
It was December 1, 1955. A married seamstress was on her way home from work and using her city’s public transportation. “I did not get on the bus to get arrested,” she said later. “I got on the bus to go home.” By Montgomery’s statutes, she was required to give up her seat on the front row of the “Colored Section” when the whites-only section was full and another white person boarded.
When she refused to move that day, a bus boycott was sparked in Montgomery and the Civil Rights Movement launched in America. Many persons have been more public, vocal, and famous over the subsequent history of that movement, but it started with her principled act. Her dignity. Her courage.
What she began that day has made some of the people who weren’t so mean, unkind, or racist sensitive to injustices that had been taken for granted. And they have changed their own minds and actions. Together, they have helped changed laws and a whole society. What she began also put on display the evil that was entrenched in some of our citizens – even some racist church leaders.
Rosa Parks forced us to face up to an evil. She gave us the chance to repent. In her death now, she reminds us of goals we have yet to achieve.