Rosa Parks Memorial
Catherine Rigsby, Chair of the Faculty
In grade-school, many of my generation learned that Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus because her feet were tired. Perhaps her feet were tired.
But, as we now know, it was not any physical tiredness that led her to this act of civil disobedience – this act that kindled the flame of the civil rights movement.
It was weariness – weariness of the ignorance of those who denied her the basic rights that we all deserve. And impatience – impatience with a political and social system that failed to recognize the dignity of all people.
Rosa Parks had the courage to sit, and by sitting to take a stand for herself, for her race, and for all decent people.
So what does her courage say to us, the members of this university community?
Rosa Parks changed everything for us.
She showed us that it is our duty to stand up for what is right – even to engage in acts of civil disobedience when they are necessary to protect and preserve our dignity and the dignity of others.
We are still, today, surrounded by indignities – by abused rights and ignored needs.
Although we are a multiracial community and involve ourselves with the nearly infinite range of human activity, most of us live under a virtual white veil.
Too many of us think that racism doesn’t affect us because we are not people of color.
Too many of us do not recognize “whiteness” as a racial identity.
We are living in denial – surrounded by unacknowledged white privilege.
White privilege, as described by Peggy McIntosh, is like an invisible, weightless knapsack – a bag of special provisions; of maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.
To continue the work of Rosa Parks and her contemporaries, we must remove this veil of white privilege.
It is time for us to all stand together, equally privileged, and realize the full potential of our society.
Rosa Parks understood the injustices of her time and the injustices that still exist today.
On that bus in 1955, she ignited a major cultural shift in our country.
Her death is a call to us all – a signal that we must continue the fight; that we must not lose sight of the light that shines brightest when it shines equally for all.