Quiet Leadership

She was quiet as a child and a classic introvert. Growing up, images of injustice formed her sense of what was right. Her brother was a hero in World War II and saved the lives of many of his white colleagues. When he came home, he was spit upon.

She had experienced racism herself from a bus driver who pushed her off the bus he was driving. She had entered the front door of the bus and was told she had to enter through the rear door. She had paid her fare, but the bus left without her after she was pushed off. She refused to ride the bus for 12 years with the driver who pushed her off. She became involved with the NAACP as a non-assuming support role, mostly in clerical duties.

Years later, she took the bus again and sat in the section designated for Blacks. She hadn’t noticed that the bus driver was the one who had pushed her off the bus 12 years earlier. When the white section of the bus was filled, she and the other Blacks were told to give their seats to white passengers. Three of the Blacks complied, but she did not. The police were called in to arrest her.

Local Black leaders decided to make the arrests of Blacks for refusing to give up their seats a test case for challenging segregation. While others had been arrested before, Rosa Parks was considered the ideal person to file a civil rights suit. But she had doubts. She was the caregiver for her very ill mother. She would lose her job as would her husband. But a local group of Black leaders headed by a little-known minister, Martin Luther King, persuaded her.

While her suit was in progress, Blacks boycotted the bus system. The boycott lasted 381 days until the city gave in after intervention from the Supreme Court. The New York Times ran two front-page stories on the triumph. Rosa was never mentioned.

When the boycott leaders were featured in subsequent stories, they were shown sitting in the front of the buses. Rosa was not invited. She would rather stay at home. When Rosa was convinced to participate in a fundraising tour, she suffered from being in the spotlight. While she had become an inspiration for others in the Civil Rights movement, she was never comfortable being in a leadership role.

Those who inspire others often do not intend to play that role. They are thrust into the role because of very fact that they don’t seek it out. There are moments when we are inspired by those who are just like us. Each of us can inspire others through our quiet leadership and strength when confronted with an intolerable situation.

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“She is a very quiet, gentle person and it is difficult to imagine how she could take such a positive and independent stand.” – Eleanor Roosevelt after meeting Rosa Parks

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