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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks: An Icon for Freedom in the United States of America

Rosa Parks, the U.S. civil rights pioneer, died on Monday. She was 92. Recently another civil rights she-ro died, Vivian Malone Jones who was the first black to graduate from the University of Alabama in its 134 years of existence. These two ladies exhibited courage at a time when it was very dangerous to be black, female and courageous in the American south. Their deaths come in the way we expect our civil rights heroes to die, not a death of violence at some loud protest, but quietly in a hospital bed or at home surrounded by family and friends.

For years before her arrest, Rosa Parks and her husband, Raymond Parks, had been activists with local civil rights groups in Montgomery, Alabama. These groups were seeking a test case to fight the city's segregation laws, ("Jim Crow" laws).

On December 1, 1955, Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress for a Montgomery department store caught a bus in downtown Montgomery. Three stops after she got on, a white man boarded and had to stand. To make room for him to sit alone, as the rules required, driver James Blake told Parks and three other black riders, "You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats." The other riders were compliant but Parks was not.

"No. I'm tired of being treated like a second-class citizen,"
Parks told the driver who then called police The officers asked Parks why she didn't move:
"I didn't think I should have to. I paid my fare like everybody else."
Mrs. Parks was arrested and four days later she was convicted of breaking the law and fined $10, along with $4 in court costs..

That same day, December 5, 1955, black residents began a boycott of the bus system, led by a then-unknown Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The boycott lasted 381 days. The resulting legal challenges led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and put an end to "Jim Crow" laws separating blacks and whites at public facilities throughout the South.

Next Post: Raymond and Rosa in Detroit

Rosa Parks: From Dixie to Detroit and Beyond...

Rosa Parks,the civil rights icon, described as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century," died Monday night at age 92.

Nearly fifty years ago Rosa, and the late Raymond Parks, her husband, moved to Detroit in 1957 after she lost her job and received numerous death threats in Alabama because she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. From 1965 to 1988, she worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

According to Conyers people didn't know what to expect when they met Rosa Parks. "For a long time people were a little bit afraid of Rosa Parks because she had created this whole new modern civil rights movement," Conyers told Detroit radio. The congressman describes the late Parks as quiet. She was someone who in his words "... sought no limelight; you'd never hear her talking about her own civil rights activities.."

This humble, quiet giant in American history was honored by the City of Detroit, where she and her husband had made their new home, when a major thoroughfare was named after her.

Over the years, she made public appearances at political rallies and civil rights events, along with speaking engagments. Other honors and awards were bestowed on Rosa Parks. No honor received was more prestigious than the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1996 and Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1999. Mrs. Parks was feted by President Bill Clinton and when recommending the medal for Parks that year, the U.S. Senate described her as "a living icon for freedom in America."

After hearing of her death President George Bush said this in praise of Rosa Parks at the beginning of an Iraq speech at a local military base in Washington, D.C.: "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century." The president further stated Mrs. Parks had set an example that helped touch off a movement that "transformed America for the better".

"Fifty years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, this humble seamstress stood up to injustice by refusing a bus driver's order that she give up her seat for a white man," Bush said. "Her show of defiance was an act of personal courage that moved millions, including a young preacher named Martin Luther King."

He also said "She will always have a special place in American history, and our nation thinks of Rosa Parks and her loved ones today."

Raymond Parks, her husband, died in 1977. The couple had no children. Rosa Parks' closest surviving relatives are her brother's 13 sons and daughters.