Rosa Parks' lifetime struggle for equality
Updated: 2005-10-26 05:51
Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked the
modern US civil rights movement, has died at age 92.
Parks died at her home on Monday
evening of natural causes, with close friends by her side, said Gregory Reed, an
attorney who represented her for the past 15 years.
Rosa Parks, pictured in 1999, the petite black
seamstress whose defiance aboard a city bus nearly 50 years ago sparked
the US civil rights movement and helped Martin Luther King Junior gain
national prominence, died at the age of 92 at her home in Detroit,
Parks was 42 when she committed an act of defiance in 1955 that was to change
the course of US history and earn her the title "mother of the civil rights
At that time, segregation laws in place since the post-Civil War
Reconstruction required separation of the races in buses, restaurants and public
accommodation throughout the South, while legally sanctioned racial
discrimination kept blacks out of many jobs and neighbourhoods in the North.
The Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress, an active member of the local chapter of
the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, was riding on a
city bus on December 1, 1955, when a white man demanded her seat.
Parks refused, despite rules requiring blacks to yield their seats to whites.
Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same
charge, but Parks was jailed.
US legislator John Conyers, in whose office Parks worked for more than 20
years, remembered the civil rights leader as someone whose impact on the world
was immeasurable, but who never saw herself that way.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said he felt a personal tie to the civil
rights icon: "She stood up by sitting down. I'm only standing here because of
Former President Bill Clinton praised Rosa Parks as "a woman of great
courage, grace and dignity" who "was an inspiration to me and to all who work
for the day when we will be one America."
Speaking in 1992, Parks said history too often maintains "that my feet were
hurting and I didn't know why I refused to stand up when they told me. But the
real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as
any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."
Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system organized by a then
little-known Baptist minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who later
earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights work.
"At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this," Parks
said 30 years later. "It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that
made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in."
The bus boycott, which came one year after the Supreme Court's landmark
declaration that separate schools for blacks and whites were "inherently
unequal," marked the start of the modern civil rights movement in the United
The movement culminated in the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, which banned
racial discrimination in public accommodations.
After taking her public stand for civil rights, Parks had trouble finding
work in Alabama. Amid threats and harassment, she and her husband Raymond moved
to Detroit in 1957. She worked as an aide in Conyers' Detroit office from 1965
until retiring in 1988. Raymond Parks died in 1977.
Rosa Parks became a revered figure in Detroit, where a street and middle
school were named after her and a likeness of her was featured in the city's
Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Parks said upon retiring from her job with Conyers that she wanted to devote
more time to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. The
institute, incorporated in 1987, is devoted to developing leadership among
Detroit's young people and initiating them into the struggle for civil rights.
"Rosa Parks: My Story" was published in February 1992. In 1994 she brought
out "Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a
Nation," and in 1996 a collection of letters called "Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue
With Today's Youth."
In 1996, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to civilians
making outstanding contributions to American life. In 1999, she was awarded the
Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honour.
Parks received dozens of other awards, ranging from induction into the
Alabama Academy of Honour to an NAACP Image Award for her 1999 appearance on CBS
television drama series "Touched by an Angel."
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum opened in November 2000 in Montgomery. The
museum features a 1955-era bus and a video that recreates the conversation that
preceded Parks' arrest.
"Are you going to stand up?" the bus driver asked.
"No," Parks answered.
"Well, by God, I'm going to have you arrested," the driver said.
"You may do that," Parks responded.
Parks' later years were not without difficult moments.
In 1994, Parks' home was invaded by a 28-year-old man who beat her and took
US$53. She was treated at a hospital and released. The man, Joseph Skipper,
pleaded guilty, blaming the crime on his drug problem.
She was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Family illness interrupted her high school education, but after she married
Raymond Parks in 1932, he encouraged her and she earned a diploma in 1934. He
also inspired her to become involved in the NAACP.
Looking back in 1988, Parks said she worried that black young people took
legal equality for granted.
Older blacks, she said "have tried to shield young people from what we have
suffered. And in so doing, we seem to have a more complacent attitude.
"We must double and redouble our efforts to try to say to our youth, to try
to give them an inspiration, an incentive and the will to study our heritage and
to know what it means to be black in America today."
At a celebration in her honour that same year, she said: "I am leaving this
legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a
fulfilment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish,
and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die the dream of freedom and
(China Daily 10/26/2005 page7)