Editor's Note: Douglas Brinkley opens his biography of Rosa Parks, the matriarch of the civil rights movement who died October 24 at age 92, with a moving account of how her life was rooted in her Christian faith. "I remember finding such comfort and peace while reading the Bible," he quoted Parks as saying. "Its teaching became a way of life and helped me in dealing with my day-to-day problems." Raised in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Parks learned early on to believe in Jesus Christ as the savior of humankind, a lesson that she would carry with her, even during the difficult years of racial struggle.

Rosa's grandfather Edwards concentrated on protecting his family from white predators. Lynchings of blacks had become commonplace thanks to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, a southern terrorist movement first spawned after the Civil War and reorganized nearly half a century later on Thanksgiving Day 1915 at Georgia's Stone Mountain. There, under an American flag and the glow of a burning cross, sixteen racists, inspired by their misinterpretation of D. W. Griffith's new film Birth of a Nation, pledged themselves to the cause of "white supremacy." They proved their dedication by performing ridiculous cultish rituals while vowing all too sincerely to rid American society of blacks, Jews, Catholics, and other "undesirables."

It is heartbreaking to think of any child having youth's innocence shattered by the prospect of torture and death at the hands of jackbooted Nazis or hooded Klansmen. Yet it was from that prospect that young Rosa McCauley learned it wasn't enough to just "turn a cheek" in Christian submission when one's very life was at stake. So every night, as her grandfather slept in a rocking chair by the fireplace with his shotgun in his lap, Rosa curled up on the floor beside him, ready to spring to the defense of her home. "I remember thinking that whatever happened, I wanted to see it," Parks explained decades later. "I wanted to see him shoot that gun."

Despite all she endured at the hands of some whites, Rosa McCauley Parks never fell to judging the whole race by the behavior of a few of its members, however appalling. In later years she would tell of the kindness of an old woman in Pine Level who used to take her bass fishing with crawfish tails as bait-an old white woman who treated her grandparents as equals. Even as a girl she appreciated that it was northern white industrialists with names like Carnegie, Huntington, and Rockefeller who were responsible for financing many of the Tuskegee Institute's exquisite redbrick buildings. And she never forgot the white World War I Yankee doughboy who came to town and patted her kindly on the head in passing, an unheard-of gesture in the South. Her Christian faith only made her feel sorry for the white tormentors who called her "nigger" or threw rocks at her as she walked to school. Reading Psalms 23 and 27 early on had given Rosa McCauley the strength to love her enemy.

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