WASHINGTON — The legacy of Rosa Parks, 60 years after her arrest for civil disobedience, is that Catholics must fight injustice even when it hurts, said a member of the National Black Catholic Congress.
“I think that it is a powerful image for us as individuals, to know that justice hurts,” said Michael Howard of the National Black Catholic Congress in an interview with Catholic News Agency about Parks’ arrest.
“To stand up for justice, it’s going to hurt. But yet in the end, the reward is that the Lord will bless us, and so we stand up for people who are ridiculed and mistreated.”
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Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus.
Parks, then a 42-year-old black woman traveling home from work, was ordered by the bus driver to move to the back of the bus and stand in the section reserved for blacks so a white passenger could take her seat in the middle seating area. The whites-only section in the front of the bus was full.
By the city’s law in 1955, she had to obey the bus driver. Parks calmly refused, and the bus driver had her arrested.
Following her arrest, Martin Luther King Jr., then a 26 year-old pastor, earned fame as he led a peaceful 381-day boycott of the city’s segregated bus system. Parks appealed her case against the system in court and the Supreme Court, ruling on another challenge, struck down laws segregating public transit systems in 1956 in Browder v. Gayle.
Today’s Catholics should learn from Parks’ “tenacity” in fighting injustice, Howard explained.
President Obama, in a statement released Tuesday by the White House, praised the legacy of Parks as a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
“Because Rosa Parks kept her seat, thousands of ordinary commuters walked instead of rode. Because they walked, countless other quiet heroes marched. Because they marched, our union is more perfect. Today, we remember their heroism. Most of all, we recommit ourselves to continuing their march,” he said in the statement.
Today’s Catholics should learn from Parks’ “tenacity” in fighting injustice, Howard said.
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Problems of poverty, homelessness, and neglect of the elderly all plague society today under a general disrespect for life, he added. People should uphold the dignity of life “from the womb to the tomb.”
Most importantly, Catholics should seek to receive mercy first in the sacrament of Confession before giving it to others, he insisted.
“Go to Reconciliation,” he said, in light of the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, which begins next Tuesday, “so that we can give mercy to others who are in such dire need of mercy right now.”
Catholics must stop heeding calls to be silent in the face of injustice, he said.
“One of the things that, as African-Americans in general experienced over the years is that we’re always taught to succumb to the forces of evil. When told to do something, we’re told to do it without asking questions,” he said. “And that is perhaps how a lot of African-Americans were able to survive through the years of the 60s and 70s.”
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This pressure to keep silent continues today, he added, when young black men are warned to “be careful how they speak to police officers and how they talk to higher authority, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen behind closed doors.”
However, Parks’ legacy is that she “was willing to take that risk and speak about justice.”
“As Martin Luther King Jr. always said, we will stand up for justice or we’ll fall for anything.”
This article originally appeared in Catholic News Agency.