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Rosa Parks' contribution to civil rights, history lives on

Feb. 04, 2010 @ 08:41 AM

Rosa Parks was an American civil rights activist who was considered by many as the "Mother of the modern day civil rights movement."

Under Jim Crow laws, black and white people in the South were segregated in virtually every aspect of life, including transportation. The first four rows of seats on buses in Montgomery, Ala., were reserved for white people although the exact number of rows was determined by a moveable sign. Black riders, who made up 75 percent of the riders, generally sat in the rear of the bus.

On December 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white male while riding a Montgomery bus. She was arrested and tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. Her trial lasted 30 minutes. She was found guilty and fined $10 plus $4 court costs. Her act of defiance triggered a wave of protest Dec. 5, 1955, that promoted a boycott of the city bus line that lasted 381 days. At a church rally the night before, the group unanimously agreed to continue the boycott until they were treated with the level of courtesy they expected. The Woman's Political Council distributed 35,000 leaflets asking all blacks to stay off the buses in defiance of the arrest and trial. Dozens of buses stood idle for months, severely damaging the bus company's finances. The U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation on Montgomery buses unconstitutional on Nov. 13, 1956. The boycotters returned to the buses on Dec. 21, 1956, ending the segregation on public buses.

Parks' act of resistance didn't go unnoticed. In September 1996, President William Clinton gave her the Medal of Freedom. In January 1999, she attended her first "State of the Union" and received a unanimous bipartisan ovation when President Clinton acknowledged her. On Feb. 4, 1999, Indiana Rep. Julia Carson introduced H. R. 573, which would award her the Congressional Gold Medal if passed by the House and Senate by a majority. The bill was passed by Congress and was signed into law by President Clinton on May 3, 1999. The Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest awards given to a civilian citizen.

She passed away at the age of 92 on Oct. 24, 2005, in Detroit, Mich. On Oct. 27, 2005, city officials in Montgomery and Detroit announced that the front seats of their city buses would be reserved with black ribbons in honor of Parks. A memorial service was held in Montgomery. One of the speakers was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said that if it had not been for Rosa Parks she would probably have never become secretary of state. Parks was taken to Washington and transported to the Capitol aboard a bus similar to the one on which she made her protest. Congress approved a resolution to honor her by allowing her body to lie in honor in the United States Capitol Rotunda. She was the 31st person and the first woman to be paid this tribute.

Rosa Parks. Gone but not forgotten.

Thomas Lambert is a Barboursville resident.

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