Rosa Parks

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
30th October 2005

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This week Rosa Parks died. Rosa was the lady who refused to move to the back of the bus in Alabama in 1955. For her refusal she wound up in gaol and became the mother of the civil rights movement in America.

She was the model person to have as a cause celebre. Happily married, a diligent worker, she was an upright citizen against whom no charge could be brought. But then she sat at the front of the bus, and refused direction to go to the back.

Out of Rosa Parks' case, a young Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, started his campaign.

This week the newspapers in America and around the world have recorded her life's work and her death. However biographies and obituaries often tell more about the writer than the person whose life they are recording. It is impossible to sum up a life of 92 years in a few words. So the writer selects what is important. Important to the writer that is—not necessarily to the person about whom they are writing.

In reading of Rosa Parks' life there was no mention of her religious activity. Clearly to the secular press this is not considered important. However in reading an interview of Mrs Parks I read:

In August 1994, Parks was attacked in her home by a young man who wanted money from her. Of the event, she writes, “I pray for this young man and the conditions in our country that have made him this way. Despite the violence and crime in our society, we should not let fear overwhelm us. We must remain strong.”

Parks' belief in God and her religious convictions are at the core of everything she does. It is the overriding theme in her book and the message she hopes to impart: “I'd like for [readers] to know that I had a very spiritual background and that I believe in church and my faith and that has helped to give me the strength and courage to live as I did.”

In an interview with some school children she was asked: What one lesson would you like to leave with students? She answered with a string of suggestions finishing with “I urge children to have a spiritual awareness in their lives. If children work towards a positive goal in life, it will help them be successful when they become adults.”

I do not know what Mrs Parks believed. It is of no concern to the media. But clearly it was of concern to her. It was a key part of her motivation for action.

Some time ago a retired merchant navy captain told me of Samuel Plimsoll—the politician whose forceful passion coerced the British government to protect the lives of seafarers by means of the Plimsoll line. My friend told me of Samuel Plimsoll's active Christian faith that stimulated his concern for the plight of seafarers on “coffin ships”. Searching articles in encyclopaedias and on the Web, reveal that he was a friend of Lord Shaftsbury but otherwise there is no reference to his religious beliefs.

It is very sad if the reason that a person stands for righteousness is censored by historians' and biographers' bias. Unfortunately it is common for Christianity to be censored out of the record of the history that Christians have shaped.

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