Home » Civil Rights Movement

Tag: Civil Rights Movement

April 10 – Howard Thurman

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 5:1-7

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.

More thoughts for meditation about Howard Thurman

Born in Florida in 1899, Howard Thurman was raised primarily by his grandmother – a former slave.  He showed signs of a vibrant spiritual life early, and would read the Bible to his grandmother.  Thurman tells the story in his most famous work: Jesus and the Disinherited, how his mother would not permit him to read anything by the Apostle Paul (besides 1 Corinthians 13) because of the abusive theology that the white preachers would perpetrate on her and other enslaved people — biblical mandates to be “good slaves.”

Thurman grew as a pastor and academic, and became a man many people call a mystic. He had a significant bond with Quaker leader and pacifist Rufas Jones of Haverford College (the key leader of the organization that became the American Friends Service Committee). That connection moved him to lead a delegation to meet with Mohandas Gandhi.

As a theologian, Thurman was a pioneer in articulating Jesus’ mission of liberation for oppressed people. He taught that “if you ever developed a cultivated will with spiritual discipline the flame of freedom would never perish.”  He served as one of the pastors of the first intentionally interracial church in the US — The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco.  As a friend of Martin King, Thurman became a spiritual adviser and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Howard Thurman is usually credited with developing the nonviolence theories and tactics that were central to the Civil Rights Movement. He wrote over twenty books besides speeches and articles before he died on this day in 1981.

Listening to Howard Thurman

  • Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace. — from Meditations of the Heart
  • Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
  • Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers.
  • During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.

Suggestions for action

Listen. Thurman was a good listener to God and others, and to his own genius. You have all those resources today, as well. Listen to them and see if you are en-couraged and directed.

October 24 — Rosa Parks

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Exodus 9:13-35

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.

More thoughts for meditation about Rosa Parks

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She died on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan. Her death was marked by several memorial services, among them lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., where an estimated 50,000 people viewed her casket.

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, 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 became a part of my everyday thoughts and beliefs. I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength.”

Parks’s husband, Raymond, had been an early activist in the fight for civil rights, and Rosa 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.

Parks was convinced that to move 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 was not 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.

Parks’ 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.

Rosa Parks is another example of how faith in Jesus played a major role in the civil-rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned the other cheek in the face of violence. Jackie Robinson’s Christian faith was what led Branch Rickey—another devout Christian—to choose him as the man to break the color barrier in baseball.

Although she had become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks suffered hardship in the months following her arrest in Montgomery and the subsequent boycott. She lost her department store job and her husband was fired after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or their legal case. Unable to find work, they eventually left Montgomery and moved to Detroit, Michigan. There, Rosa made a new life for herself, working as a secretary and receptionist in U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In 1987, with longtime friend Elaine Eason Steele, Rosa founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The organization runs “Pathways to Freedom” bus tours, introducing young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.

In 1992, Rosa published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography recounting her life in the segregated South. In 1995, she published Quiet Strength which includes her memoirs and focuses on the role that religious faith played throughout her life.

“From my upbringing and the Bible,” Parks wrote, “I learned people should stand up for rights just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh.”

Despite all she endured at the hands of some whites, Rosa 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 near her grandparents farm 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.

Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest award, and the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Award. On September 9, 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the United States’ executive branch. The following year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch. In 1999, TIME magazine named Rosa Parks on its list of “The 20 most influential People of the 20th Century.”

Suggestions for action

There is always a new Pharaoh clawing for dominance, isn’t there? Consider the oppressors of today and how Jesus might be calling you, or us, to respond.

Pray, in particular, for all the people simply saying, “black lives matter.” They do, just like you.