Suggestions for Riding a Bus

Suggestions for Riding a Bus
Rosa Parks On Bus
Rosa Parks seated toward the front of the bus, Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

The picture below is of an amazing document. It is “Integrated Bus Suggestions” provided by the Montgomery Improvement Association which was an organization established to help guide the Montgomery Bus Boycott in December of 1956 in the wake of the arrest of Rosa Parks. It is an amazing document to read.

A friend posted the picture on his Facebook page this morning with the comment, “We have no idea.” And we truly do not. But on this Martin Luther King day, I would like for you to place yourself on that bus. Pick a role. You can be the African American entering the bus. Be the bus driver, just wanting punch the clock and make it through the day to return home to your family. Be one of the other passengers, recognizing or maybe not recognizing, the sea change that is occurring right before your eyes. If you are in a city with public transportation, take a bus ride and bring a copy of these suggestions and be transported back to a time not to distant when a document such as this was necessary.

As you read this document, imagine stepping onto a bus with these “suggestions” seared into your memory. The jolt of adrenaline and fear and nervousness that wells up as the door opens and you mount the first step. As you reach the top step, what does it feel like to see the seat you are to occupy and feel the all the eyes on the bus wielding looks that communicate the full gamut of possible emotions. There is hate in some of those eyes…but there is also hope in others. There is anger but there are others illuminated with the dawning recognition of what is right. There is fear but also determination.

I discovered a quote by Dr. King yesterday:

Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?

But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

I would encourage and challenge you to think about what metaphorical bus you need to step into. What difference could you make if you allowed courage to spawn creativity and change?  Allow your conscience to ask the question, “What is right?” and then step on that bus armed with these suggestions. They are still just as valid as they were in 1955.


Suggestions for Riding a bus

Integrated Bus Suggestions Provided by the Montgomery Improvement Association for the bus boycotts.


Bear It Away…

At about 2:30 pm yesterday, I sat in the balcony of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama anticipating the afternoon worship service during the New Baptist Covenant regional gathering. It had already been a wonderful day of music, conversations, and speakers highlighted to that point by President Jimmy Carter’s presentation about three hours earlier.  The schedule for the afternoon, immediately prior to the worship service, provided a variety of workshops on various topics concerning poverty, social justice, and racism.  I chose instead to take advantage of the beautiful weather and wandered across the street to Kelly Ingram Park.  (I hope you will please take the time and follow the links to the Wikipedia articles on Kelly Ingram Park and 16th Street Baptist Church.)

It wasn’t long until a guy named Dread rode up on his bike and began to explain the stories being told by the fountains, sidewalks, and sculptures found on the 4 acre space dedicated to “Revolution and Reconciliation” in the middle of downtown Birmingham.  I assumed Dread was homeless.  That seemed to make his recitation that much more significant.  He drew me into the story in a way that made me feel a part of it without feeling guilty for being a white male.  The story of that piece of ground was my story as well…it was a story that made me proud of those brave souls who stood against the dark principalities and powers that day.  Those dark powers were fighting for their very survival that day…and they were losing.  God’s power and justice was made strong in the weakness of those powerless revolutionary souls and the violence of the principalities and powers was rendered impotent in the face of the words, “I ain’t afraid of your jail.”

So there I was in the balcony across the street, 16th Street Baptist Church, just 30 minutes after thanking Dread for his words.  My smile had not yet faded from my face following 3 stirring songs by a choir of African American kids…kids about the same age as the 4 girls who died on that very spot some 45 years earlier.

Kate Campbell came to center of the stage and paused…emotions rising in her voice and on her face.  The significance of the moment was not lost on her or her performance or anyone in the room.  When she began singing the words to Bear it Away, we all prayed it along with her…

Bear it away
Bear it away
Merciful Jesus
Lift up our sorrow
Upon your shoulder
And bear it away

Kate closed her set with the song Freedom Train…a song based on a line from Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech.  I watched people’s faces as they sang the song to themselves, eyes closed, taking in the rich air filling that sacred space.

I may not get
There with you
Keep on marching
Just the same
There ain’t
No turning back
It’s a one-way track
When you jump
That freedom train

The standing ovation following the last note was not merely for the performance of a couple of well chosen songs.  It seemed to be a corporate recognition that much had happened since that dark day, September 15, 1963.  It seemed that those gathered recognized that much was still to be done.  However, the despair that filled the room 45 years ago had been replaced with hope.

I didn’t stay for the rest of the program.  It had been a full day.  I walked to my car under the shadow of  the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King.  It was gazing across the street toward the church.