Just some thoughts:
Not too long ago I got on a bus in a southern city, paid my fare, moved into the aisle and took a seat in the second row from the front. Sitting next to me was a young black lady. I would judge her to have been in her early twenties. We acknowledged one another with an exchange, and, from there, a bit of small talk.
As we rode along, I got to thinking about what the two of us were doing. I would really like to have asked her a question, a history question. “Do you know who Rosa Parks and Fred Gray were?” I did not ask. As the bus continued, I wondered if she would know how significant these two people were in what she and I were currently doing.
At one time, in many southern cities, blacks and whites could not sit together or even be in the same area of a bus. If a bus was full, blacks had to stand and give up their seat to a white person; all that changed in December 1956. I was fourteen at the time growing up in Indiana and had no knowledge of such happenings. The black population of Montgomery, Alabama refused and boycotted riding the city buses for almost one year. They walked, walked everywhere. It all began with a little lady, Rosa Parks, who was represented by her black lawyer friend, Fred Gray. A young black preacher in that city, Martin Luther King, helped organize and speak to this “unjust,” and in gatherings, encouraged the people to stay the course. In most all the meetings where these issues were addressed, there would be the singing of hymns, with the people standing and holding hands. One such hymn that was sung was an old hymn I sang as a small boy growing up in the churches I attended.
What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning of the everlasting arms.
Oh, how sweet to walk in the pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms.
Oh how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear, learning on the everlasting arms?
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms.
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
I doubt that, any time I sang that song, I had any idea what other folks might be enduring and how they were drawing courage from that song. Now all these years later, this young lady and I rode together without much thought of what it took for us to be doing that. Riding a bus, a white and black sitting together, came at a cost.
By the way, I once spent a portion of a day with that lawyer, Fred Gray, who also represented Martin Luther King. On my bookshelf sits a signed copy of Mr. Gray’s book. What a lady, what a man and what a fellowship.
January 16, 2017