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Civil Rights Pioneer's Book Tells Impact of Religion : History: Rosa Parks says her strength came from God when she refused to give her bus seat to a white man in 1955. She credits role of churches in the movement.

January 21, 1995|From The Associated Press

Rosa Parks does not know if she was chosen by God to become the mother of the civil rights movement.

What she can say nearly four decades after she changed the course of U.S. history is that her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in December, 1955, was an act of faith.

"I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. God did away with all my fear," the 82-year-old Parks writes in a book released this month by Zondervan Press. "It was time for someone to stand up--or, in my case, sit down. I refused to move."

"Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation" tells how religion shaped her life and how it has been an integral part of the civil rights movements from the tumultuous years of the 1950s and '60s to the present. It was written by Parks with her attorney, Gregory J. Reed.

Despite this country's historical reliance on a wall between church and state, Parks' book points out, the struggle for equality in the South could not have taken place without the involvement of the church.

In her book, Parks says she is often asked, "Why was the church a part of the movement?" Part of the answer, she says, is that the church was the only place people could gather and get information without being treated unjustly.

But she says the answer goes deeper, into the historical ties that have bound together religion and the fight against injustice among black Americans.

"The church was and is the foundation of our community. It became our strength, our refuge and our haven," Parks writes. "We would pray, sing and meet in church. We would use Scriptures, testimonies and hymns to strengthen us against the hatred and violence going on around us."

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While she was growing up in Alabama, her grandfather would lead daily devotions and her grandmother would read the Bible to her each day. Her belief in freedom, Parks said, goes back to her childhood when her mother would sing songs like "O Freedom Over Me" to her:

And before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free. On the day when she refused to give up her seat on the bus, Parks said, she had no plans to be arrested. She was sitting in the "colored section" of the bus and her only intent was to go home after a long day of work as a seamstress.

But when a white man got on the bus and the driver ordered the black people in her row to move to the rear, she remembered the songs of freedom her mother sang to her and the lessons from the Bible of people standing up for their rights, such as the children of Israel, who stood up to Pharaoh.

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"I was fortunate God provided me with the strength I needed at the precise time when conditions were ripe for change. I am thankful to him every day that he gave me the strength not to move," Parks said.

She was the third woman arrested on a Montgomery bus, but her arrest was the one that would lead to the bus boycott that became a powerful symbol of peaceful resistance for the civil rights movement. The boycott ended more than a year later, after the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.

Even today, she said, she is still uncomfortable with all the credit given her for starting the bus boycott.

And she is unsure whether it was a direct act of divine intervention.

"I don't know if I was chosen by God, but I felt he was a very strong influence in my life and I was very glad that I could have the strength and faith" to refuse to relinquish the seat, Parks said in an interview.

Parks, who was beaten and robbed in her house last year, concludes her book with a plea for everyone to work together for a world free of violence and racism, where people of all races and religions work together to improve the quality of life for everyone.

"I can see this world because it exists in small pockets of this country and in a small pocket of every person's heart," she writes. "If we will look to God and work together--not only here but everywhere--then others will see this world too and make it a reality."

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