Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks dies
Tue Oct 25, 2005 12:56 AM ET
By Tom Brown
(Reuters) – Rosa Parks, the black seamstress whose refusal to give up
her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man sparked a
revolution in American race relations, died on Monday. The U.S. civil
rights pioneer was 92.
Shirley Kaigler, Parks’ lawyer, said she
died while taking a nap early on Monday evening surrounded by a small
group of friends and family members.
"She just fell asleep and didn’t wake up," Kaigler said.
cause of death was not immediately known. Medical records released
earlier this year, as part of a long-running legal dispute over the use
of Parks’ name in a song by the hip-hop group OutKast, revealed the she
was suffering from progressive dementia. She rarely appeared in public
in recent years.
Kaigler said Parks was at home in an apartment
complex overlooking the Detroit River and the border with Ontario,
Canada, when she died.
"She lived in the neighborhood that I grew
up in," Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said of Parks, who lived in the
predominantly black city for decades and had a major thoroughfare named
"Everybody knew where her house was. Everybody would
walk past and point her out," said Kilpatrick. "She was an amazing
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said
in a statement: "The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American
hero. A half century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but
for generations upon generations of Americans."
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are saddened by the passing of Rosa Parks. We rejoice in her legacy,
which will never die. In many ways, history is marked as before, and
after, Rosa Parks," said civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
"She sat down in order that we all might stand up, and the walls of segregation came down."
was a 42-year-old seamstress for a Montgomery department store when she
caught a bus in downtown Montgomery on December 1, 1955.
stops after she got on, a white man boarded and had to stand. To make
room for him to sit alone, as the rules required, driver James Blake
told Parks and three other black riders, "You all better make it light
on yourselves and let me have those seats."
The other riders complied but Parks did not.
I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen," she told
Blake. Blake called police, who asked Parks why she didn’t move: "I
didn’t think I should have to. I paid my fare like everybody else."
was not the first black Montgomery bus rider to be arrested for failing
to give up a seat, but she was the first to challenge the law. For
years before her arrest, Parks and her husband had been active with
local civil rights groups, which were looking for a test case to fight
the city’s segregation laws.
Four days later, she was convicted
of breaking the law and fined $10, along with $4 in court costs. That
same day, black residents began a boycott of the bus system, led by a
then-unknown Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The boycott lasted 381
days, and the legal challenges led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision
that forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and put an end to
"Jim Crow" laws separating blacks and whites at public facilities
throughout the South.
Parks and her husband, Raymond, moved to
Detroit in 1957, after she lost her job and received numerous death
threats in Alabama. From 1965 to 1988, she worked as an aide to U.S.
Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and founding member of the
Congressional Black Caucus.
"For a long time people were a little
bit afraid of Rosa Parks because she had created this whole new modern
civil rights movement," Conyers told Detroit radio late on Monday.
"They didn’t know what to expect, and they certainly didn’t expect
someone that quiet. She sought no limelight; you’d never hear her
talking about her own civil rights activities and all the things that
she had been in," he said.
"She has saint-like qualities," Conyers added.
husband died in 1977. The couple had no children and Parks’ closest
living relatives are her brother’s 13 sons and daughters.
received the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, in 1996 and Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1999.
Recommending the medal for Parks that year, the U.S. Senate described
her as "a living icon for freedom in America."