Dear Mrs Parks,
We never met, and since you died in 2005, we won’t, (at least this side of Eternity). I am writing to you today because yesterday would have been your 102nd birthday and this seemed to be a good enough occasion to offer you my thanks.
You were born into a world that is totally unrecognizable to me. Not just because you lived in rural Alabama, but because the colour of your skin dictated a way of life where inequality and injustice were everyday companions. You were a grown woman of 43 before I was even born and I can well believe that you were tired of ‘giving in’ when in 1955, you stood up to a white bully and the white ‘system’ when you refused to move from your seat on that crowded bus in Montgomery.
I know you weren’t the first person to refuse to give your seat on a bus, but you were the one who became in MLK’s* opinion, the catalyst for change. It took many years, indeed, there’s still a way to go, but America was changed for the better because you were ‘tired’ of giving in.
You probably never even imagined that day, 1st December 1955, when you were traveling home after your day’s work that you would, eventually become something of an icon; a powerful figure in the Civil Rights Movement. You definitely wouldn’t ever imagine that you would become an inspirational figure in my life. How could you? As I said before, we never met. You are though,(an inspirational figure). You and I have more in common than it may, at first seem.
I live in the UK, am white and have never, ever had to put up with the privations that were part and parcel of your world. However, the main thing that you and I share is that we are people of faith, the same faith in fact.
That faith tells us that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
In a world that payed lip-service to the teachings of Jesus you chose to embody them. I get that it wasn’t easy. You were arrested. It took years. You didn’t actually agree with MLK on some of the issues, (and that’s another story, right?) Ultimately though, you were brave enough to stand up to the Bully and the world changed.
There’s a new film, out in America and due for release here tomorrow, called Selma. The film is set ten years after your bus journey, and tells of the March from Selma to Montgomery. You aren’t in it, of course. You were living in Detroit by then, working for John Conyers. No, the film is all about MLK, (and I’m a big fan, so I shall be going to see it – despite the fact that it seems to be all about men, again – come on, Hollywood). You were working for, and supporting an African-American representative in the State legislature. Doing your bit to change things from the inside.
I just wanted to say a big,’Thank you, Mrs Parks!” Oh, and Happy Birthday!
*MLK is, of course, Martin Luther King.