Rev. Milford Griner: The unbroken chain from Parks to the White House


Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:58 p.m.

Today Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States; a significant milestone in the history of our nation. An achievement that seemed a huge impossibility not only at the beginning of 2008, but certainly at the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

As America and the world bears witness to the transition of presidential power to an African-American, the question now is, what will be said by people all across the land?

Some will say that with a new president who happens to be young and black, we have finally “overcome.”

Some will say that while having a black president is a great and historic event, black Americans still have not achieved full and equal justice in America.

Some will simply say, “hallelujah,”

which was stated with loud voices in many black churches on election night, according to various press reports.

Whatever is said about our new president and the significance

of his election, it can definitely be said that this election and inauguration concluded an incredible journey in history itself that has important

roots that lead back to the often terrible and violence-filled events of our nation that saw blacks victims of intense hatred and prejudice, but also saw great achievements in the areas of politics, science, sports, medicine,

entertainment and other notable categories.

The roots, of course, spread to the city of Montgomery, Ala., on December

1, 1955, on an ordinary city bus not unlike the RTS buses that travel back and forth across Gainesville. It was on that city bus in Montgomery

that one Rosa Parks decided to not move from a seat that the bus driver wanted to have a white passenger sit in, according to the ordinances of that time.

As it is well known, Mother Parks did not move because she was physically tired, but was, as she stated herself, “just tired of giving in.”

Many history books in our schools and libraries have it wrong about this incident. Rosa Parks was not just a “tired Negro seamstress,” but a respected and educated member of her community, and a member of the local NAACP. She was tired way down in her soul of the way that she and others were being treated like second-class citizens in their own town, and she decided that enough was enough.

On that day, she was arrested and fined the sum of $10 plus $4 court costs, and when she appealed her arrest and fine, the stage was set for what would change the history of the nation, and indirectly paved the way for a man named Barack Obama to become the nation’s president.

As it is also known, the incident on that bus and the arrest of Rosa Parks led to the emergence of a then unknown pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. Because he was unknown, especially by the local racist officials of the city, he was asked to lead a bus boycott in protest of the treatment

of Rosa Parks as well as the entire Negro population of Montgomery. King became that leader and did lead what became a successful boycott that lasted for 381 days and led to integrated

bus seating, which led to other walls of segregation being torn down all over the South.

The rest is well known, powerful and documented history. We have a national holiday honoring Dr. King, and locally, I am proud to say as founder and chairman of the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee, the RTS downtown station is now renamed the Rosa Parks RTS downtown station in her honor and memory, with a beautiful bronze plaque erected at the site with her likeness and brief biography.

On Sunday, Jan. 11th at the church I am pastor of, Hall Chapel United Methodist Church in Rochelle, the theme of our King tribute was “Yes We Can: The Dream Is Realized.” My purpose was to link together Rosa Parks, Dr. King and finally Barack Obama in a historical chain that will forever be tied due to the events that led up to Nov. 4, 2008, when Barack Obama claimed victory.

And what can and will be said about this?

Many will say that Barack’s rise to power is the culmination of the dream spoken of by Dr. King in 1963, and that if we work and fight for change, change will come.

Has the dream been fully realized?

I would say no, it has not, but it can not be disputed that the presidential election signaled a turning point as well as a conversion in the hearts, minds and souls of people who refused to be so narrow minded in their thinking that they would not vote for a qualified candidate for president during the most difficult economic times in our nation since the Great Depression,

simply because of his skin color.

When I said “realized” in my sermon, I meant that what seemed an impossibility decades ago is now possible because America has done some “growing up” in the last 50 years.

Have we truly overcome? I have to say, no we have not. The poor are still poor, the hungry are still hungry and the homeless

are still homeless. Unarmed black men are still gunned down by over zealous, racist and seemingly trigger happy police officers. Nooses seem to have made a comeback in parts of our nation, and there are still huge gaps in opportunities for blacks in the areas of education, health care, jobs, community redevelopment

and other areas.

Still, the rise of Barack Obama should and must give all people hope, and especially black Americans.

Within our daily lives, whatever

we do, we must do it with dignity, honesty and integrity, and with an unshakable and unwavering inner faith and resolve and courage. Just as Rosa and Martin did, and just as Barack Obama did.

I close with these words spoken by our new president on election night, and I believe that as he spoke, the spirit of Martin encircled him on that Chicago platform, and he remembered Martin’s “I’ve Been To the Mountain Top” speech:

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year, or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you — we as a people will get there.”

My final thought: Yes we can, and yes we will.

The Rev. Milford Lewis Griner is founder and chair of the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee and pastor of Hall Chapel United Methodist Church in Rochelle.

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