Three Feet that Changed America
About ten years ago, I started researching the lives of men and women who had lasting impacts on American culture and society. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood out to me and understandably so. As I dug deeper into his life and the lives of others involved in the Civil Rights movement, another name drew my attention: Rosa Parks. Her refusal to move just three feet to another seat inspired a wave of righteous social justice activism.
There are lessons to be learned from these two and from the Civil Rights Movement. Let’s look at some of them briefly:
- Every cause needs motivation: In 1955 it was the brutal slaying of 14-year-old Emmitt Till in Leflore County, Mississippi. New York Times wrote: “The killer of the boy felt free to lynch because there is, in the entire state, no restraining influence of decency, not in the capital, among the daily newspapers, the clergy, not among any segment of the so-called lettered citizens.”
- Everyone has the potential to make an impact: In 1955 the head of the Montgomery NAACP was E. D. Nixon, a railroad conductor. Rosa was a seamstress in the basement of a downtown department store. MLK was the new 28-year-old pastor of the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church.
- There is a price to pay for making a difference: For Rosa, it was death threats, job loss, loss of friends and a husband driven to alcoholism. MLK had his house bombed and endured constant harassment before he was assassinated in the prime of his life.
- Developing a vision and strategy is essential: We know that MLK had dreams for the Black population, but he also helped to develop the strategies that would become necessary in order to see those dreams come into reality.
- We must find unity in our values, not our doctrines: MLK and the leaders of the Civil Right movement were not concerned about the doctrines, religious affiliation, color of the skin, or cultural backgrounds of its member. If you believed that the Black population should have rights that equaled those of the white population, you were welcomed into the movement.
In looking at their lives, I come to one conclusion: transformation of our culture and society happened once, and it can happen again.
This Black History Month, I salute Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and so many others that sacrificed so much for the basic civil rights. I also want you to know that I am grieved by the present state of affairs as it relates to the Black population. What I see is not what MLK had a vision for. So much is yet to be done in order to see the true freedom and advancement of all our citizens and it goes beyond simple recognition of their struggles.
The challenges are correctable. Together we can move this awesome population forward to its destiny.