By: Jerry S. Maneker

I gave the following talk at the Congregational Church of Chico, UCC, upon the death of veteran civil rights activist, Rosa

Fifty years ago, an unassuming woman forced to sit in the back of the bus of life, wouldn’t take it anymore.  She stood
her ground and from that one act of defiance against injustice and oppression, turned the tide of the grinding,
institutionalized racism in our society by paving the way for Martin Luther King and other civil rights advocates to
become leaders in removing century’s old yokes of bondage placed on Afro-Americans.

I remember in the 1950’s many professing Christians carrying signs proclaiming that “Integration is against God’s will.”  
They said that those in favor of integration were communists and if integration existed in this country this country would
become communist. Afro-Americans were not allowed to worship in “white” churches, had to use separate bathrooms,
enter buildings through the back doors, drink from separate water fountains, and would be unwelcome in most hotels
and restaurants.  To fight against such oppression, especially in the south, meant abuse from law enforcement officials
and others and even the risk of death through lynching and other means.

It only took one woman, a seamstress, who had the guts to stand up to such bigotry and malignant hatred that was
institutionalized in this society to make a world of difference for the fortunes of Afro-Americans.  She teaches each one
of us an invaluable lesson: every person counts and every single person, regardless of one’s position in life, can make
a difference that can have consequences that will far outlive him or her.

Each one of us can make a difference!  Each one of us, particularly if we are worthy of the name “Christian,” must take it
upon ourselves to do what we can, as best we can, wherever we are in life, to seek to remove yokes of bondage from
not only ourselves, but from other people who suffer the degradation and humiliation of being viewed as second-class
citizens; viewed as unworthy of full recognition of the dignity and human rights that are the rightful lot of all of God’s

For our profession of faith to be worth anything beyond self-congratulatory piety, we must be committed to social justice
for others in both word and deed.  Whether we write letters to the editor, march in protest against injustice, speak out
against the oppression of others, or in any way that we can seek to liberate those captive to the prejudices, materialistic
needs, and political and career agendas and aspirations of those who profit quite handsomely from the oppression of
others, we must seek God’s will and grace to give us the strength to do what we are able, no matter what the cost to
ourselves, to fight for social justice.

That one act fifty years ago by a courageous woman who literally took her life in her hands to stand her ground should
serve as a lesson to all of us.   We have Rosa Parks as an example of the courage necessary to fulfill our mandate from
God, to be Christians worthy of the name, to care “for the least of these,” God’s children.  We, particularly, as a church
that claims to be committed to social justice, must use the example of Rosa Parks to put legs on our prayers to fight for
the underdog and see to it that as much as we are able we can, regardless of where we are in life, each in our own way,
make a positive difference in the lives of others and in the character of our community and society.

So on this day, we remember this wonderful, brave, unassuming woman who helped lead the way toward changing the
face of America.  And as Christians, we pray that we allow her bravery to teach us to put legs on our prayers in our fight
for social justice for all of God’s children.

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