An historic journey began at the Rose Parade 60 years ago that is worth celebrating by those who care about peace. As Zak Rosen reported on National Public Radio this week, “in 1953, Mildred Norman set off from the Rose Bowl parade on New Year's Day with a goal of walking the entire country for peace. She left her given name behind and took up a new identity: Peace Pilgrim.” (See http://www.npr.org/2013/01/01/168346591/peace-pilgrims-28-year-walk-for-a-meaningful-way-of-life
Peace Pilgrim carried petitions calling for disarmament, a Department of Peace, and an immediate end to the Korea war. She walked 3,000 miles to give these petitions to elected officials in Washington, DC, and then went to the United Nations in New York City. She continued walking for 28 years, crisscrossing the United States six times, traversing Canada, and covering over 25,000 miles. As her friend Ann Rush notes, “She did not ask for anything. She slept wherever she could, such as a bus station or corn field, if no one offered her a place to sleep…. To all who would listen she talked about the vital need for peace and the practical things that anyone could do to work for peace—peace in the world and peace within, which she recognized as interwoven.”
She wore a blue tunic with the words “Peace Pilgrim” and carried everything she owned with her. She claimed to have achieved inner peace after much inward struggle. Those who met her were inspired by her infectious cheerfulness and optimism. She appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, including Johnny Carson and Joe Pine, and spoke at hundreds of colleges, schools and churches, including Cal Tech here in Pasadena.
Peace Pilgrim died in a car accident in 1981, at age 73, but her legacy continues today. Her teachings and remarkable life story were gathered together in pamphlets and books that circulated over a million copies—distributed for free (see peacepilgrim.org). Songs and children’s books have been written about her. In 2001, her statue was placed at the United Nations University of Peace in Costa Rica, alongside statues of other world peace makers such as Gandhi and Tolstoy.
This year Peace Pilgrim’s memory is being honored by Pasadena’s religious leaders. Rev. Dr. Donna Byrns, Senior Minister of The Church of Truth, is coordinating an interfaith peace walk and shoe drive, inspired by Peace Pilgrim. The finale of the drive will be an Interfaith Peace Walk. Participants will walk a mile from various locations and converge at 2:00 PM at Memorial Park on Sunday, March 3, 2013. Representing Pasadena's rich diversity of religious traditions, prayers for peace will be spoken by members of diverse faiths, demonstrating a shared commitment to work and live in peace for the common good.
Rev Donna Christine Park, founder of WAMMS (Walk a Mile in My Shoes – On the Path to Peace), walked at the end of this year’s Rose Parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Peace Pilgrim’s first walk.
Wearing angel wings and a colorful dress with peace signs, Rev Park was much more flamboyant than Peace Pilgrim. But Park exuded that same irresistible cheerfulness and optimism.
Currently residing in Mesa, AZ, Rev Park has traveled to Peace Pilgrim’s birthplace in Egg Harbor, NJ, researched her life story, and met with her 98-year-old sister Helene who said, “My sister would be smiling at the thought that you are walking in the Rose Parade in memory of her.” Park has also organized shoe drives throughout the US that gathered over 16,000 “gently used” shoes.
Donna lives on a shoestring budget—social security disability—and must use a walker to get around, but that did not deter her from participating in the Rose Parade.
“I intend to do as much as I can while I can,” she said. Her walker was decorated like a float, with flowers and a poster depicting Peace Pilgrim, that brought smiles to passersby. My Quaker friend Heather and I had the honor of joining her, carrying a poster that said, “War is not the answer.”
“I am thrilled to be here at the Rose Parade following in the footsteps of Peace Pilgrim,” said Rev Park as she handed out flyers and gathered signatures calling for a Department of Peace and disarmament, just as Peace Pilgrim did 60 years ago.Peace Pilgrim would no doubt be pleased that her concern for peace and the homeless still resonates here in Pasadena, where her amazing journey began. Her message of peace is needed now more than ever.