38: Rosa Parks

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#38 Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks had had enough. On December 1, 1955, she was riding the bus home from work, sitting in the front row of the colored section when the white section filled up and she was asked to give up her seat. The other Black riders moved, Parks did not. She recognized at that moment the problem with giving in. “I was tired of seeing so many men treated as boys and not called by their proper names or titles. I was tired of seeing children and women mistreated and disrespected because of the color of their skin. I was tired of Jim Crow laws, of legally enforced racial segregation.” Skilled in grassroots organizing, she was aware of the potential consequences of her act of civil disobedience. She was a respected community activist, member, and secretary of the local NAACP. And she had reached her limit. She made the decision to resist, drawing on her faith in God. She was a devout Christian, a deaconess in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a believer in the need for faith to act in the face of injustice. Recounting that fateful December day she said: “I instantly felt God give me the strength to endure whatever would happen next. God’s peace flooded my soul, and my fear melted away. All people were equal in the eyes of God, and I was going to live like a free person.” The bus driver called the police, she was arrested and fined. Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat, nor the first to be arrested. But her refusal, her arrest, and her equanimity sparked a fire in the Civil Rights community. The Women’s Political Council (WPC), a group of black women working for civil rights, immediately began circulating flyers calling for a boycott of the bus system, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was born. A group of five Montgomery women and the NAACP, sued the city in the U.S. District Court, seeking to have the busing segregation laws totally invalidated. The boycott lasted for 381 days. It is regarded as the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. On June 5, 1956, a Montgomery federal court ruled that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment. The city took its appeal to the Supreme Court and lost. Montgomery’s buses were integrated on December 21, 1956. In 1999, Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be given to a civilian.