The Woman on the Bus: The Faith of Rosa Parks

Christianity's role in the life of the civil rights movement's beloved heroine.

In 1999, Rosa Parks, the civil-rights heroine, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be given to a civilian. Parks received the award because nearly half a century ago, she changed the course of American history when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

Most people know the story of the seamstress who helped ignite the civil-rights movement, but many people don't know that Rosa Parks [was] a devout Christian, and that it was her faith that gave her the strength to do what she did that day in 1955.

In her book, entitled "Quiet Strength," Parks says her belief in God developed early in life. "Every day before supper and before we went to services on Sundays," Parks says, "my grandmother would read the Bible to me, and my grandfather would pray. We even had devotions before going to pick cotton in the fields. Prayer and the Bible," she recalls, "became a part of my everyday thoughts and beliefs. I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength."

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Parks's husband, Raymond, had been an early activist in the fight for civil rights, and Parks joined him in his work. But she says she never planned to be arrested for breaking a racist law. On December 1, 1955, Parks was sitting on a bus in the front row of the section reserved for blacks. But when a white man got on, there were no more seats in the white section, so the bus driver told Parks to move back.

But Parks was convinced that to do so would be wrong--and she refused to get up. "Since I have always been a strong believer in God," she says, "I knew that He was with me, and only He could get me through that next step."

Parks wasn't the first black person to refuse to move to the back of the bus. Earlier that year, a woman had been carried off the bus clawing and kicking. Another woman had used profanity during her arrest. But the local NAACP declined to rally behind these women.

But Park's behavior throughout her arrest was above reproach. Because of this, and because of her well-known exemplary character, Alabama civil-rights leaders thought Park's arrest signaled the right time to act. They launched the famous yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, and the rest is history.

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