Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

What Ms. Parks did in 1955

One can only imagine how annoyed white folks were on the bus that afternoon. After all, it was the end of another working day and nobody was making all that much money. They were all tired and weary, and a bunch of them had no idea what was on tap for supper--they'd still have to figure it out once they got home. "Get out of work and get on the bus and get home and put your feet up," was just about all there was to it that afternoon, 61 years ago today, in Montgomery, Alabama.

I'm betting no one even saw her get on, none of the white folks anyway. Why should they notice. They were busy, had their own heartaches, they're own crappy stories. They didn't need any colored woman's problems that late afternoon. 

Some of them didn't even like the pushy driver. He had a history of pissing people off--black people especially. Some people just got airs, you know? Some people aren't content with having it their way; they just want to do nothing more than poke a sharp stick in the eye of someone else, like that colored lady especially. She wasn't breaking any law sitting in the middle section. The whole world knew it was "first come, first served." Stupid driver.

And, sure, it would have been right for that white guy to just give up the seat that lady had. After all, he was younger and she had a hard day too that day. I mean, you could see it on her face. She was beat, and he didn't have to make a point of lording it over her the way he did. The way most of the people on the bus saw it that morning, there wouldn't have had to be a dust-up, no arrest for pity sake. The whole mess simply wouldn't have had to happen.

And,  yes, she could have moved too. The other Negros sitting beside her had moved after all, when that pushy driver commanded them to. And he didn't have to yell at her that way either, if the truth be told. He could have just said it kindly, not screamed. He's an ass really, and I don't mind saying it. That driver is an ass. He bears responsibility for the whole bus boycott thing. Why can't we all just get along?

If I were some white guy from Montgomery, circa 1955, there's a good chance that's what I might have thought and how I might have thought it.

Sixty years later, we've made a hero out of Rosa Parks, even a Christian hero. People today claim say she emitted some kind of "Christian glow," a mystic presence so moving even white people in Alabama saw it, a kind of aura. Even if they're wrong about the glow that day, it makes little difference because she's become what we've made of her, a saint. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a younger white man and thereby broke the back of certain kind of segregation in the Jim Crow South. 

She did it all alone and without violence. She did it without saying much at all. She took it upon herself to stand up for justice she saw violated every day of her life. That day, 61 years ago, she simply told herself and that bus driver that she wasn't going to take it anymore. She insisted on staying right there where she was. 

And that's what started it all.

Sometimes white people like me don't realize or remember what a bother Rosa Parks must have been, what a squeaky wheel, what an "agitator," my father's favorite word for Dr. Martin Luther King. Before he died, I should have asked him whether he'd changed his mind about MLK; it would have been a tough question, I'm sure, one he might not have wanted to answer. 

People like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King upset things, got people riled up, raised cane, made trouble, put things off track when all any of us wanted was to make a living and provide for our families. White people just didn't want to be bothered by black people's problems, not when they had their own. Turn on the news and what do you see but people in the streets when they ought to be at work. That sort of thing.

"Black Lives Matter" gets tiring, doesn't it? Sometimes you just want to tell 'em all to go get a job somewhere--go home and make a family or something, make something of yourself. It's such a bother, such a mess. I know the feeling. Besides, this is America, land of the free, home of the brave, a Christian nation. 

Sometimes we laud heroes and forget what made them heroic. 

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