I had a profound experience, an epiphany if you will, on Christmas in 2014. I was taken outside my life and transported to a place I've never been, in a time I never lived. The memory haunts like the song your memory doesn't recognize, but your heart does. This experience is particularly relevant on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and always during Black History Month. So what's the big deal?
I sat in Rosa Parks' bus seat
It was that same seat which, on December 1, 1955, she refused to vacate when a white man wanted it. This random act of defiance sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and propelled Woolworth Lunch Counter protests, freedom riders, and other Civil Rights demonstrations. All because of Rosa Parks. It still gives me goosebumps.
She became an instant celebrity. How the Rosa Parks bus came to live at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan is as touching as that of its most famous passenger.
Rosa Parks bus story
The bus is a newer acquisition for the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. I was shocked and excited to find the bus there and asked a guide how they obtained it.The vehicle was auctioned by a farmer who'd bought it after the company retired it. He believed it was the Rosa Parks bus, but wasn't certain. The serial and coach number matched records, and there were some journal and newspaper references. But did the farmer preserve that sacred civil rights artifact? No. He used it for storage.
"With Liberty and Justice for All"
The Henry Ford Museum bought, restored, and displayed Rosa's bus in the "With Liberty and Justice for All" exhibit.
I thought, from the title, that it was just another American rah-rah-red-white-and-blue thing. But the exhibit goes past flag-waving to explore racial and gender discrimination. The display catalogs the struggles of African-Americans, Asian, Latino, and Latina Americans, suffragettes, labor struggles, segregation. It's a poignant reminder that "liberty and justice" has not been for all. There's no actual documentation connecting it to Rosa Parks. But I didn't need proof. I could feel Rosa Parks' strength and integrity.
A tale of two hurricanes: Katrina and Rosa
We finished that Christmas vacation in New Orleans and visited Congo Square, in Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood. We wandered and wondered at how a big wind named Hurricane Katrina had destroyed this neighborhood. We admired the chutzpah the drowned city showed in rebuilding herself.
We grieved that so much is gone forever. It got me thinking that Rosa Parks was the wind that drove the storms of change. "Hurricane Rosa" stirred up leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and she continues to rouse men (and particularly women) to action on women's rights, to end racism and bigotry.
"A sound of lamentation, Rachel weeping..."
The prophet Isaiah portends great suffering, pogroms, and the slaughter of Jewish people, especially mothers who would cry for their children because "they were no more." The story of the African-American holocaust eerily mirrors the Jews. While in Treme, we heard a band playing, and what sounded like a tribal celebration. Come to find out, it was Kwanzaa. The women were incanting songs of sisters gone before, the struggle ahead, and the ties that bind. I wanted so much to join it, to be a sister, too. Congo Square was significant as a centuries-old gathering place for slaves. So it was a requiem as much as a celebration.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day: justice for all
Had I lived in those bleak Jim Crow days, I wouldn't have had to give up my seat, use a different fountain, bathroom, or lunch counter. As a woman, I would have suffered other injustices and discrimination, though. As a human, any violation of liberty impacts us all. An injury to one is an injury to all. But happily, an act of defiance against tyranny helps everyone. Defending herself, Rosa defended the liberties of all Americans. Something to give thanks for on MLK Jr. Day. #MLKJrDay #RosaParks #Celebrities