January 19, 2009

FROM THE ARCHIVES: DIGNITY:

Rosa Parks, civil rights icon, dead at 92: With act of dignity, a movement began (Mark Feeney, October 25, 2005, Boston Globe)

Rosa Parks, the Alabama seamstress whose soft-spoken refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man triggered the Montgomery bus boycott, the first great mass action in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, died yesterday. She was 92.

Mrs. Parks died at her home in Detroit of natural causes, according to a spokesman for US Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan.

The boycott brought to national prominence a 26-year-old Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. He later inscribed a copy of his book ''Stride Toward Freedom" to Mrs. Parks, ''Whose creative witness," he wrote, ''was the great force that led to the modern stride toward freedom."

That act of ''creative witness" made Mrs. Parks a world icon of freedom and earned her the popular title ''mother of the civil rights movement."

''I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to the segregation laws in the South," she wrote in her autobiography, ''Rosa Parks: My Story" (1992). ''People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."


MORE:
Bus Ride Shook a Nation's Conscience (Patricia Sullivan, October 25, 2005, Washington Post)

Within days, her arrest sparked a 380-day bus boycott, which led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated her city's public transportation. Her arrest also triggered mass demonstrations, made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famous, and transformed schools, workplaces and housing.

Hers was "an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and freedom," King said in his book "Stride Toward Freedom."

"She was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and self-respect. She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn."

She was the perfect test-case plaintiff, a fact that activists realized only after she had been arrested. Hardworking, polite and morally upright, Parks had long seethed over the everyday indignities of segregation, from the menial rules of bus seating and store entrances to the mortal societal endorsement of lynching and imprisonment.

She was an activist already, secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP. A member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church all her life, Parks admired the self-help philosophy of Booker T. Washington -- to a point. But even as a child, she thought accommodating segregation was the wrong philosophy. She knew that in the previous year, two other women had been arrested for the same offense, but neither was deemed right to handle the role that was sure to become one of the most controversial of the century.


What wouldn't you give to go to your grave knowing that just once you'd done something so courageous and honorable that mattered so much?


[originally posted: 10/25/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2009 7:00 AM
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