This morning, I witnessed Congressman John Lewis’ flag draped casket being carried, by decorated servicemen to the Capitol Rotunda. I thought about his words forty years after his participation in the Freedom Rides of the South after white supremacists firebombed the bus he was riding on May 14, 1961, “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious.”

On Bloody Sunday, March 9, 1965, during the Selma to Montgomery marches, his skull was cracked by the billy clubs of Alabama police as he attempted to cross a bridge named, then and now, for a confederate army officer and ku klux klan grand dragon. He thought he was going to die, then, too, but God had other plans. Yesterday, his coffin crossed that bridge one last time, accompanied by his family.

Happy Birthday Rosa Parks.

rosaparksstampThe post office has issued a stamp bearing the image of Rosa Parks today, her 100th birthday. The stamp is the first of three issued this year which will commemorate the Civil Rights Era. One hundred years ago, Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. She attended a laboratory school established by the Alabama State Teacher’s College for Negroes, but had to drop out to care for her ailing grandmother, then her mother. In 1932 she married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. Mr. Parks, who was a member of the NAACP, encouraged his wife to complete her high school studies, which she did in 1933. Rosa Parks became the secretary of the NAACP in December 1943 because,  “I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no.” She held the office until 1957.

In 1944, Rosa Parks investigated the case of Recy Taylor, a black woman from Abbeville, Alabama, who was kidnapped as she was leaving church and brutally gang raped by six white men. She and other civil rights activists organized the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. The state of Alabama did not seriously pursue the charges, but it was one of the first instances of nationwide protest and activism in the African-American community and is considered an early organizational catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement.

A second came in August 1955, after Emmett Till, a fourteen year old black youth, was brutally murdered in Mississippi. The November 1955 NAACP meeting consisted of discussion of the Till case and an action plan for blacks to work for their rights. On December 1, 1955, after she had been working all day, Rosa Parks paid her fare and sat in the front seat of the colored section of a bus. The white section filled up and the driver, James F. Blake, told the people sitting in her row to give up their seats. The man sitting next to Rosa Parks stood up, but she did not.  She would later say of the incident,

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.