by Bob Roehr
Rosa Parks, whose act of civil disobedience in 1955 inspired the modern civil rights movement, died Oct. 24 in Detroit, Mich., according to the Associated Press. She was 92.
Parks's moment in history began in Dec. 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. Her arrest led to a 381-day boycott of the bus system by Blacks that was organized by a 26-year-old Baptist minister named Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Later, a court ruled for desegregation of public transportation in Montgomery; however, it was not until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations nationwide were desegregated.
Even into her 80s, she was active on the lecture circuit, CNN reported. Parks spoke at civil rights groups and received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. In recent years, she made news by filing a lawsuit against rap duo OutKast, who recorded a song named after the activist. ( The parties settled in April 2005, according to an item in The Detroit News. )
Underscoring Parks's importance and influence, the nation took several days to bid the civil-rights icon farewell.
Hundreds of people slowly filed past the body of civil rights icon Rosa Parks on Oct. 29 at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Montgomery, Ala., The Detroit Free Press reported. The event took place just miles from the downtown street where she made history.
The following day, Parks became the first woman—and the second African-American—to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. More than 30,000 Americans filed silently by her casket in the and a military honor guard saluted the woman, CNN reported. Positioned under a spotlight, Parks's casket stood in the center of a Rotunda that includes a bronze bust of King. By lying in the historic building, Parks shared an honor tribute bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and other national leaders. The Houston Chronicle reported that President George Bush ( who presented a wreath but did not speak ) and congressional leaders gathered for a brief ceremony, listening as members of Baltimore's Morgan State University choir sang 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'
On Nov. 2, thousands of mourners packed a Detroit church for an emotional final goodbye that took seven hours. About 4,000 people crowded the Greater Grace Temple, and another 1,000 people sat in an overflow room of the church, according to CNN. Hundreds more lined up outside the building. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; Rev. Al Sharpton; Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; and singer Aretha Franklin were just a few of the luminaries who attended. Just before the casket was closed around noon, the audience sang 'We Shall Overcome,' the civil rights movement's anthem. Bush had ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff on that day in remembrance of Parks.
Memorial services took place across the country, from Los Angeles to New York City. Locally, various people also noted the importance of Parks in history. On Oct. 30 at Beloved Community Church on Chicago's South Side, several prominent residents spoke out about the civil-rights leader, according to CBS 2 Chicago. Congressman Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, told the congregation that she 'was a heroine that history could not deny' while the Rev. Willie Barrow said that Parks 'embodied the courage that is indeed so important to the world in which we live.'
Not surprisingly, sentiments poured in for Rosa Parks following her death. Obama, in an official statement from his office, called Parks 'a genuine American hero' and added that because of her fearlessness 'she helped lay the foundation for a country that could begin to live up to its creed.'
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said that ' [ w ] hen Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up to a white man on December 1, 1955, she demonstrated extraordinary courage in the face of daily mistreatment and systemic injustice experienced by African-American men, women and children, not just in Alabama but all across the country.' The organization also stated that her 'legacy will live on for generations...'
In addition, the National Stonewall Democrats Black Caucus issued a release declaring that Parks's life 'cannot be summed up in one statement. [ Oct. 24 ] is a sad day for Black America, America and the world.' C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, stated that the United States 'has lost an important civil rights leader whose work strove for the equality of all Americans. Ms. Parks's historic act of defiance and her subsequent social justice work has been an inspiration to everyone in the civil rights community.' Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese commented that 'Parks didn't stop on the bus, but kept going, working throughout her life to make the world a better place. With her passing, a true legend is lost but an inspiring imprint will always remain.'
T.J. Williams, a gay gospel singer, praised Parks but added that racial and sexual minorities should continue the fight she initiated. He told Windy City Times that 'every African American and every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning person in this era should take [ Parks's ] legacy as [ an impetus ] to continue marching and praying until justice rains down for all. We should remember that Rosa called everyone who believes in justice to stand together. Her legacy signaled for unification.'
Parks could make history again. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd, and former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have introduced bills that would erect a statue to Parks in the Capitol's Statuary Hall, according to The Chicago Defender. If passed, it would be the first statue of an African American. Jackson said 'Rosa was more than the 'mother of the civil rights movement.' Her dignified leadership inspired others to engage in courageous acts.' His bill, H.R. 4145, was introduced Oct. 26. Kerry has introduced a similar bill to memorialize Parks.