Rosa Parks: Much more than a woman on a city bus

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2008

The issue: Rosa Parks will be inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Our position: We’re pleased to see the mother of the civil rights movement honored in this way.

Mention Rosa Parks in just about any company, and someone will say, “She was the mother of the civil rights movement.”

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Parks’ decision to test an unjust law by remaining seated on a public bus in Montgomery gave rise to a national movement for equal rights. It also became the driving force to find a leader, who turned out to be the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, Parks will be inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame on March 6 at Judson College in Marion. The hall of fame’s board selected Parks as the only inductee for this year. Women must be dead for two years before being considered for induction.

In 1955, this seamstress refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white man. She was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, about four months after a nation’s eyes had turned to Mississippi in the South to witness the lynching and letting go of the murderers of Emmitt Till Jr., a Chicago youth visiting in Leflore County.

Many claim Till’s death raised awareness and Parks’ resistance kicked off the action of the civil rights movement. Indeed, Parks told a biographer once that she had attended a mass meeting in Montgomery about four days before her action during which Till’s death was discussed by T.R.M. Howard, a black civil rights leader from Mound Bayou, Miss., who lead the Regional Council of Nego Leadership.

Parks was born in Tuskegee. Her father, James McCauley, was a carpenter and her mother, Leona Edwards, was a teacher. Her parents separated, and she moved with her mother to Pine Level, which was just outside Montgomery.

In 1932, she married a barber from Montgomery, Raymond Parks, who was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Parks worked as a domestic and a hospital aide. She completed high school studies the next year because her husband urged her to.

But it was a job at Maxwell Air Force Base that Parks said, “opened my eyes up.” She rode on an integrated trolley because racial segregation wasn’t allowed on the air force base.

The story that she was tired and wouldn’t give up her seat on that Montgomery bus wasn’t true, Parks said.

“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.”

She paid for her actions long past the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended. Parks lost her job at the department store, where she worked as a seamstress. Her husband quit his job rather than give into orders that he couldn’t talk about the movement.

They moved to Virginia briefly, then to Detroit. She continued to work as a seamstress until 1965 when

U.S. Rep. John Conyers hired her as a secretary in his Detroit office. She retired from that work in 1988.

During her life, she published two books, “Rosa Parks: My Story,” designed to tell youth about the boycott and “Quiet Strength,” her memoirs about how faith gave her strength.

She continued to work and carry the message of freedom in various ways until her death in October 2005. Three days after her death, buses in Montgomery and Detroit bore black ribbons on their front seats in her honor until after her funeral.

Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she likely would not have earned her position in government if it hadn’t been for Rosa Parks.

It is fitting Parks should be the only inductee this year in the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.