2 Nov 2005

Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies

Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies
New York Times
October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks, a black seamstress whose refusal to relinquish her seat to a white man on the city bus in Montgomery, Ala, almost 50 years ago grew into a mythic event that helped touch off the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's, died yesterday at her home in Detroit. She was 92 years old.

Her death was confirmed by Dennis W. Archer, the former mayor of Detroit.

For her act of defiance, Mrs Parks was arrested, convicted of violating the segregation laws and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees. In response, blacks in Montgomery boycotted the buses for nearly 13 months while mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law that enforced their second-class status on the public bus system.

The events that began on that bus in the winter of 1955 captivated the nation and transformed a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr into a major civil rights leader. It was Dr King, the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, who was drafted to head the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization formed to direct the nascent civil rights struggle.

"Mrs Parks' arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest." Dr King wrote in his 1958 book, "Stride Towards Freedom. "The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices."

Her act of civil disobedience, what seems a simple gesture of defiance so many years later, was in fact a dangerous, even reckless move in the 1950's Alabama. In refusing to move, she risked legal sanction and perhaps even physical harm, but she also set into motion somthing far beyond the control of the city authorities. Mrs Parks clarified for people far beyond Montgomery the cruelty and humiliation inherent in the laws and customs of segregation.

That moment in the Cleveland Avenue bus also turned a very private woman into a reluctant symbol and torchbearer in the quest for racial equality and of a movement that became increasingly organized and sophisticated in making demands and getting results.


On Montgomery buses, the first four rows were reserved for whites. The rear was for blacks, who made up more than 75 percent of the bus system's riders. Blacks could sit in the middle rows until those seats were needed by whites. Then the blacks had to move to seats in the rear, stand or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Even getting on the bus presented hurdles: If whites were already sitting in the front, blacks could board to pay the fare but then they had to disembark and re-enter through the rear door.

For years blacks had complained, and Mrs. Parks was no exception. "My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest," she said. "I did a lot of walking in Montgomery."

After a confrontation in 1943, a driver named James Blake ejected Mrs. Parks from his bus. As fate would have it, he was driving the Cleveland Avenue bus on Dec. 1, 1955. He demanded that four blacks give up their seats in the middle section so a lone white man could sit. Three of them complied.

Recalling the incident for "Eyes on the Prize," a 1987 public television series on the civil rights movement, Mrs. Parks said: "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.' "

Her arrest was the answer to prayers for the Women's Political Council, which was set up in 1946 in response to the mistreatment of black bus riders, and for E. D. Nixon, a leading advocate of equality for blacks in Montgomery.


While Mr. Nixon met with lawyers and preachers to plan an assault on the Jim Crow laws, the women's council distributed 35,000 copies of a handbill that urged blacks to boycott the buses on Monday, Dec. 5, the day of Mrs. Parks's trial.

"Don't ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday," the leaflet said.


The boycott lasted 381 days, and in that period many blacks were harassed and arrested on flimsy excuses. Churches and houses, including those of Dr. King and Mr. Nixon, were dynamited.

Finally, on Nov. 13, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation on buses. The court order arrived in Montgomery on Dec. 20; the boycott ended the next day. But the violence escalated: snipers fired into buses as well as Dr. King's home, and bombs were tossed into churches and into the homes of ministers.

I was wondering how come there wasn't any mention of Mrs Parks' death in the many blogs or political parties which clamour for civil rights. Though Mrs Parks was protesting against the cruel laws and customs of segregation, it was nonetheless a quest for civil rights for freedom, equality and dignity.

Mrs Parks was a courageous lady who refused to be treated as anything less than a full human being. She also carried out her act of civil disobedience all by herself and even persevered in the face of threat of being arrested.

As one of the very few people whose actions or conduct changed the face of a nation, Mrs Parks deserves to be remembered by us, esp those championing for civil rights.


LuckySingaporean said...

If Rosa Parks had been born in Singapore, she would have been humiliated and ridiculed by the PAP govt. The PAP discourages dissent and political progress, they demolish anyone who dares to stand up for the rights of the people.

What is so great about her anyway? How can she compare with our scholar elite who are the best of the best. I believe she was part the underclass in America. People like her will get nowhere in a country like Singapore. Yes Singapore is great country. Its leaders are simply too good for the people. We are so lucky to have such capable leaders that remove the need for protests and dissent.

treecostume said...

"That remove the need for protests and dissent"? I don't think that the need has been removed, simply the capability. This population here is very neutered..impotent in the face of...our swaggering capable leaders.

soci said...

I guess locky2ky thats why having a group of contributors is a good thing. One of us is bound to pick up on most of the relevant stories out there.

clyde said...

I watched Bill Clinton's speech at her funeral on CNN, and somehow, he just reminded me what a better of 2 'evils' he is compared to Bush. Sure Clinton was rediculed by Lewinski and had the Bosnian war on his shoulders, but Bush just makes him look like a saint.