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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


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