Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Today, as part of the MLK Day of Service all AmeriCorps volunteers served (because all those other days — not service 😛 Also — surprise! — I’m doing AmeriCorps) so I went to a different BPS middle school and cleaned out a supply room and painted doors. Growing up, my family and I would bundle up and head downtown for the annual march and presentation. One year my town was visited by Sweet Honey in the Rock! I loved this tradition of walking in solidarity with the people of my hometown and the people in other hometowns across the country and back into history.
But sitting back in my apartment I’m not thinking about the implications of having people volunteer en mass or the way those years of marching and listening to inspiring speakers shaped me. I’m thinking about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But I’m also hesitant to talk about it with you because so much has been written on this subject in words that are way more eloquent (not to mention better researched) than my own. So I’m just going to offer up several things strike me about this protest right now, leaving off aspects that are floating around in my head, yet to congeal:
- Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat there were two teenagers, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, who each challenged segregated buses and were arrested for their actions. What role should young people play in bending society towards justice, to paraphrase King? How does one prepare students to take on this role?
- The protest began on December 5th, 1955 and did not end until December 20th, 1956. This is almost thirteen months of protest, of daily commitment, of focus, of surviving anger and injunctions. As Mary Fair Burks put it, it was ‘‘the nameless cooks and maids who walked endless miles for a year to bring about the breach in the walls of segregation.’’
- This protest sparked a lawsuit that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 1956. Less than sixty years later that same institution destroyed key pieces of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. This stands as only one of countless examples that demonstrate that there is work to be done.
- King was 26 years old when this boycott started and when he was chosen to lead the protest efforts, galvanizing the community members in a speech the night the protest began and working diligently throughout. This seems so young, now that I’m in my twenties.
I realize that these thoughts are NOT well fleshed out yet, they’re more like little tadpoles. But I have a feeling I’ll be getting back to these topics as I keep filling you in on riding the bus.
[Thank you, Stanford University, for putting together the quotes and research used above.]