On Feb. 4, I was honored to attend a pair of events celebrating the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks with the issue of a U.S. postage stamp on the 100th anniversary of her birth.
It was especially appropriate that these events came at the beginning of Black History Month, and that one event was held at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where visitors today can sit in the bus seat that Rosa Parks refused to give up, and in doing so, changed the world.
I’m sure you know the story: On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., after a long day’s work, and took a seat. When all the seats filled up, the bus driver, following the city’s segregationist practice, demanded that Mrs. Parks give up her seat to a white man. She quietly refused, setting off a chain of events that helped end the Jim Crow era of legal discrimination in the South.
Mrs. Parks later moved to Detroit, where she remained active in the civil rights movement and worked for 20 years in the office of Congressman John Conyers.
The U.S. Postal Service’s decision to honor Mrs. Parks with a stamp was an inspired one, and it has special meaning to me, not only as an admirer of her spirit and a proud Michiganian, but as a stamp collector.
Sometimes we collectors are eager to add a stamp to our collection because it’s especially valuable, or rare, or old, or in perfect condition. And sometimes, we value a stamp because it reminds us of something or someone we cherish.
The new Rosa Parks stamp honors someone we all cherish. The beauty of honoring Mrs. Parks in this latest way, and the beauty of honoring greatness through a postage stamp, is the way in which it introduces greatness into our everyday lives. They will be reminded of how one person can, through character and conviction and strength, change the world.
Now, generations of Americans will come upon the dignified, forceful portrait on this stamp, see the name “Rosa Parks,” and, for a moment, reflect on her truly inspiring example. Indeed, the Postal Service has designated the stamp as a “forever” stamp, meaning it will cover the cost of first-class postage forever, even if postage rates go up. The stamp is forever, just like Rosa Parks’ example.
Rosa Parks helped unleash forces of freedom and equality too powerful for the forces of hatred and anger to contain. In addition to this postage stamp, she has been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, and later this year, we will make history by placing a statue of Mrs. Parks in the U.S. Capitol building’s Statuary Hall.
No honor, whether it’s a stamp or statue or a medal, can do true justice to Rosa Parks’ contributions. But they help remind us of the power of ordinary people who are willing to do extraordinary things. They encourage us to try to live up to that example. That is Rosa Parks’ lasting legacy.