Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mother Rosa And Minister Farrakhan

December 1, 2005, was the 50th anniversary of the seminal event which launched the Montgomery bus boycott and the career of a young preacher named Martin Luther King. Tales are legion as to what really happened that day, a half century ago. Despite the speculation, it was a simple case of Rosa Parks deciding she'd taken her fill of Jim Crow law. This little, humble woman chose to stand up to tyranny by sitting down and refusing to cede her seat on a public bus. As a result, she'll be remembered as the mother of the modern civil rights movement. Because she was arrested, Rosa Parks is still condemned as a common criminal in certain Confederate circles. Yet, history will reserve a place of high honor for her uncommon bravery.

Seldom noted is the fact Mrs. Parks was sitting in the black section when the commotion started. Segregation was the de jure custom in the South at that time. Riders were separated by a movable sign which hung on the back of a seat. The sign was positioned after the first four rows. Whites sat up front and blacks sat in the back. Four rows were usually enough for the front section because whites rarely rode the buses. If the rear section was full, blacks couldn't sit in the front, even when that section was empty. To enhance this racist roulette, black and white riders routinely shuffled the sign to secure more seats in their particular section of the bus.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks took the bus home after a hard day's work as a seamstress. She sat in a seat just behind the sign. Jim Crow law required a black person to cede the next available seat to a white passenger when the front section was full. Indeed, blacks had to vacate the entire row when a white person sat anywhere in it. Rosa wasn't looking to become a martyr for the cause that fateful evening, although she was the local NAACP secretary and had prepared to protest the unfair bus laws at some point in time. Nevertheless, this confrontation promptly became a burden and a blessing for Mrs. Parks.

Rosa was ready for trouble when the bus pulled up. She remembered the driver and his rudeness from a previous dispute. After paying her fare, she refused to walk around and board the bus via the back door. Sometimes, drivers would take off and leave you stranded. So, she got on and walked through the bus in order to avoid this risk.

After three stops, a white man got on and demanded a seat in her row. The other blacks moved meekly to the back. But when the driver ordered Mrs. Parks to leave her seat, she refused to do so. The driver summoned the police who quickly arrived and arrested her. On December 5, she was convicted of violating a city ordnance and behaving in a disorderly manner. She was fined $14.00. Legend has it she didn't get up because her feet were sore. She strongly denied this was the case. Actually, it was the overwhelming weight of racist insult and brutal injury which had pushed her to the breaking point. This ugly fact triggered her sober defiance. In effect, Mother Rosa was simply sick and tired of being sick and tired. The most compelling, unanswered questions about this incident are: Where were the men (any men) and why didn't they come to her assistance?

On October 24, 2005, Rosa Parks died at home in Detroit. It was a peaceful passing for this most extraordinary woman. On November 3, she was lain in state at the US Capitol Rotunda. This rare tribute is reserved mostly for American presidents. Mrs. Parks was the first woman and only the second black person in US history to be so acclaimed. The first African American to lie in honor wasn't Dr. King. It was Jacob J. Chestnut, one of two Capitol police officers who were fatally shot in 1998.

On Wednesday, November 2, the Rosa Parks Memorial Service was held at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Michigan. Black political and religious leaders begged for spots on the eulogy short list. Dignitaries in attendance included John Conyers, a very close friend of Rosa Parks. She worked as a receptionist and a staff assistant for him from 1965 to 1988.

Every eulogy was expressed with deep compassion and inspiration. Rev. Al Sharpton was especially eloquent. He's matured into one of the great extemporary speakers in America today. However, the best encomium was probably given by a surprise guest to the proceedings.

After a short break, Minister Louis Farrakhan appeared unannounced at the microphone. First, he patiently waited for the audience to acknowledge his presence. Then, he basked in the thunderous applause. After delivering the usual platitudes, Farrakhan calmly delivered his memorial to Mother Rosa. He began by stating he never knew Rosa Parks personally. This was a striking statement because most of the speakers there had at least a casual acquaintance with her. He said, although he didn't know Rosa Parks from the outside in, he did know her from the inside out. Again, this was a striking statement, insinuating he had a deeper understanding of her than the other guests.

Farrakhan said Mother Rosa denied herself a comfortable life in order to take up the cause of justice. That's not completely true. She lost her seamstress job due to the bus incident. Then, no one would hire her because of the ensuing boycott. She didn't volunteer to become persona non grata. Her opportunities improved only when she and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957.

After hitting his stride with the audience, Farrakhan started to articulate the points of interest he'd come to make. He said he was deeply concerned about the so-called war for civilization and democracy being fought in the Middle East. He indicated it shouldn't make a difference whether one worships as a Christian, Muslim or Jew because we're all brothers and sisters in faith. All three religions have the same prophets and principles. Therefore, holy wars should be seen for the useless adventures they are.

Farrakhan deftly brought the war back home. He said a crisis of the spirit is what ails America. Further, he said the turmoil is based almost exclusively on hypocrisy. Without naming names, he lambasted those who betrayed the weak and poor by consorting too closely with oppressors. This was a slap at the ministers who accept forty pieces of silver from Bush's Faith Based Initiative. Farrakhan strongly believes Bush delivers these devil dollars to buy political silence. And he's absolutely correct.

He concluded by saying we must be defiant in the face of poverty, injustice and religious hypocrisy. He said we must become more than Christians, Muslims and Jews in name only. He stated we must profess and act upon a faith we truly believe in and accept that salvation can be achieved only through faith and hard work. Then, he offered his Rosa Resolution: " die a stronger person than when I die in the die on my die in the name of the Lord." This was truly an inspired speech ( As he left the stage, the ovation was deafening.

Minister Farrakhan may have more in common with Mother Rosa than all the other ministers at that event combined. Like Rosa Parks, he's defiant in the face of the blatant racism in America today. He doesn't mince words about what troubles our nation and he's clearly a leader who can't be bribed. Nation of Islam followers don't smoke, drink or do drugs. They form close family units and work hard to maintain them. They're always clean cut and cheerful. And they stress self-respect and independence. Most important, they praise God for the gifts they receive in this life, while doing good deeds to prepare the way to the next one. It's so interesting how hypocritical whites, blacks and Jews hate this man, although he's the one with the best track record of doing positive things to improve the lives of American blacks.

Great prophets and oracles throughout history have never been welcome. This is because they have a tendency to point out hypocrisy and weakness whenever they encounter it. This makes people very uncomfortable, especially rulers. Holy men and women usually meet with untimely deaths because faith and truth are more important to them than their very own lives. So, rulers look for any excuse to terminate these diviners with extreme prejudice. Mother Rosa and minister Farrakhan are two of a kind. They're defiant to the end. We should emulate those who dare to do good deeds, rather than wasting precious time spewing falsehoods.

There was only one problem with Farrakhan's thoughtful eulogy: Wood and nails shouldn't be used to build engines for execution, rather they should be used to build warm homes and fine schools.

Franklin L. Johnson


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