Editor's Note Reflections

This is What Heroism Really Looks Like

rogiro / Foter / CC BY-NC

The extraordinary bravery of Antoinette Tuff  intersects with an interesting time for America. As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it’s tempting to list our many national political failures and the continuing systemic discrimination and endemic poverty that undermine our founding principles. But then a woman like Antoinette Tuff steps into the shadow of Rosa Parks and rocks our perception. Just as Parks was not the first black person who refused to move on a bus in Montgomery, Tuff is not the first person to ever avert a shooting. But many are cheering how Tuff responded to the dangerous, gun-toting man in front of her with a patience and compassion born of faith. Parks was also a woman of faith, though hers was more stubborn and impatient to achieve justice. Her faith led her to challenge an unfair system of discrimination. As Jeanne Theoharis reports in her fabulous biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks:

…When the driver ordered them to give up their seats, no one moved. Getting agitated, the bus driver said, “You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”

Parks reflected to herself on how giving up her seat “wasn’t making it light on ourselves as a people.” She thought about her grandfather keeping a gun to protect their family. She thought about Emmitt Till. And she decided to stand fast. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Though she had been an activist for years, Parks had no idea or plan that her resistance would lead to a 382 day boycott that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. to worldwide attention and ended legal segregation. Likewise, Antoinette Tuff could not have anticipated a media whirlwind or a call from President Obama, but what would our world be like if we all followed her example and became “doers of the word and not just hearers?”

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