United Methodist News Service
Editor’s Note: Each year, United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White writes a “birthday” letter to the late Rev. Martin Luther
This year I begin this letter with considerable sadness. Mrs. Rosa Parks’ recent death has caused a deep sense of grief. It is surprising to observe how another’s death impacts us. You really can never tell how you will respond to death. You simply have to wait.
When I learned Mrs. Parks had died, I was momentarily numbed. Shocked but not surprised. She had been ill for some time, and after all, she was 92. A long and good life. But as the days went on, I found myself falling into a pit of grief that seemed to have no bottom. It was a “silent and alone” mourning. Despite my efforts at self-control, tears came unpredictably. Martin, it was painful.
I was flooded with memories. It is still difficult to believe that it was 50 years ago on
I was attending a small Methodist college in the South at the time and tasting firsthand the oppressive nature of racism and bigotry in the region. Actually, it was not new to me, despite the fact that I was born and reared in
You had just begun your pastorate at
Rosa Parks, now affectionately called the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” for that simple yet dangerous act, accelerated the movement to end Jim Crow and legal segregation in this nation. She was and is so important to so many of us who remember what it meant to be a black American in 1955.
Martin, I think many younger people, and perhaps those not so young, did not understand our outrage and offense when Rosa Parks’ action was made the butt of jokes in a popular movie a couple of years ago. We knew the significance of that act of saying “no” to a white person in the
It was a different
Many parents knew the heart
In death, Rosa Parks was honored by this nation in a way she was not in life. Her body laid in state in the rotunda of the nation’s Capitol, the first woman to be so honored. National leaders, including the president, came to pay their respects to this woman of genuine courage and humility. A statue of her likeness will be commissioned and placed in the Hall of Statues in the Capitol.
While these honors bestowed upon Mrs. Rosa Parks are cause for rejoicing, I have this overwhelming sadness. Perhaps it is so, Martin, because in this death I remember others. Those who touched my life and indeed made a difference in American life. I remember them today; their faces and voices are vivid and clear: Ella Baker, who mentored me when I was an officer in the New York NAACP Youth Council; Gloster Current, Channing H. Tobias and Anna Hedgeman, who encouraged and supported me when I went off to college; Walter White; Lester Granger; James Farmer; A. Phillip Randolph; Fannie Lou Hammer; Whitney Young; Roy Wilkins. And you.
And so many others. Gone. It is a heavy grief today, Martin.
This year, Martin, on your birthday, I remember. I simply remember. In sadness. In gratitude. In hope. Yet because I remember, I have not the slightest doubt that we shall overcome.