Forever etched in my mind and soul is an image of Rosa Parks sitting softly, as she had in that historic picture of her looking out of a bus window, with a white man sitting behind her with a kind of “going with the flow” expression on his face.
In this particular vision, as she sits, she is radiating her warm smile my way as I and a few children from a school where I was the principal, on one occasion, and my twin daughters and youngest son, on another occasion, sang to her.
“Rosa, Rosa, Rosa,” we serenaded. “Rose up from the crowd.” I had shared with all the children how her simple act of defiance affected so many people so the next words were: “Rosa, Rosa, Rosa made us feel, oh so proud. Got us up on our feet. Yes, oh yes, she did. Got our souls to humming and our hearts to beat. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.”
I recalled for the children my first bus trip in the 40’s with my mother somewhere below the Mason and Dixon Line. I told them how I, without knowing what I was doing, since I was only about 4 or 5, wandered up to the front of the bus, breaching the color line, and the chaw chewing bus driver, startled beyond belief hit the brakes and spun the bus, seemingly, across a couple of county lines which must have scared cattle of every kind from miles around. And he told my mother to sit her monkey down – and, the sad thing was: I hadn’t seen anything yet as I found out over time.
With that in mind we sang: “Rosa, Rosa, Rosa stood in the face of hate. Rosa, Rosa, Rosa let civil rights right through the gate. Gave us something we can’t have too much of. Yes, oh yes, she did. Dignity and a spirit bathed in love. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.”
I appreciated that the children comprehended at a deep level how I couldn’t understand, at any level in my being why, back then, I couldn’t enjoy life’s simple pleasures, why I couldn’t, like white folks, sit down and feed my face – or drink from any water fountain – or sit anywhere at the picture show – or skate at the rink on any day – or swim in all the pools – or sit at the front of the bus and do what little boys like to do: watch bugs smash against the windshield and go: “Yuck!” But all that was asking too much.
You could hear, in our voices, the celebration of the passing of those hateful days when we sang a phrase of praise to Rosa’s taking us “to another place,” putting a “smile on our frowning face,” giving us “a hint of what it’s like to be free,” and “straightening our spines in Montgomery.” Our voices rang about how when Rosa didn’t give up “that old bus seat, she swept Jim Crow right off his feet. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.”
All the while, as we sang, Rosa sat softly in her gentle manner, and her magnificently beautiful smile never left her face. That image is a most cherished memory and will forever sustain me as I pursue keeping her legacy alive. Not too long ago Sister Rosa asked us to dedicate our lives to what she dedicated her life to: “…peace, justice, equality, and love and fulfillment of what our lives should be.”
Just think: what a world this could be if we all honored Rosa’s wonderful legacy, understanding that this is the way it has to be if human beings are to survive the 21st Century.