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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Goodbye To A Hero

Mrs. Rosa Parks died Monday, October 24, 2005 of natural causes. She was a true hero and an inspiration, not only for people of color, nor just for Americans, but for all humanity - for all time.

While many other leaders, legislators, and scholars may have made great strides in promoting the advancement of equality and justice, what made Rosa Parks special to me was that she was not a leader, but an ordinary individual. Her actions would inspire both followers and leaders such as Reverend Martin Luther King. People whose message may have been critical to them in their time, but a one that was essentially applicable to any creed, sect, or era.

Philosophically, her brave actions bring up the question of, when is lawlessness or disobedience ethical? Surely, the rule of law is an important ethic in itself, but laws alone do not dictate what is ethical. In "The Means/Ends Principle" I say that the question of ends and means only arises when there is a conflict of values (2.13.4). The Rosa Parks bus incident is a prime example of a conflict between two values (obeying the law and equality).

So many people, when confronted on their ethics, retreat to legalism: "I was just following orders", "I did nothing illegal", "I followed the law", "I didn't technically lie because of the definitions of my words". Clearly, Mrs. Parks showed us that the principle of dignity and equality for all human beings, far outweighed the principle of obedience to just any sort of law.

Rosa Parks was not a highly educated scholar, but in her own wisdom she reminded us that laws exist to further the imperatives of justice, not to undermine them. To do this, in the dangerous climate she did it in, required enormous courage. For that, she will be remembered.

Update: October 28, 2005
I was pleased to read in an Associated Press news article that Rosa Parks has become the first woman, and one of a select few people (30th), to have her body lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C. In addition to that, the first seat of every city bus in Detroit and Montgomery will be reserved until her funeral.

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