- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Area schools broke from their classroom routines yesterday to talk about Rosa Lee Parks, the “mother of the civil rights movement” who died Monday.

“As an African-American student, I feel like I have to carry on her spiritual message,” said Aleta Dunn, a student at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney.

Aleta, 13, said she heard the news Monday night on the radio and ran to the living room to tell her parents.

“When you grow up hearing about somebody, then they’re gone, you cannot believe it,” she said.

Mrs. Parks’ refusal in 1955 to give up her bus seat to a white man prompted a 380-day boycott in Montgomery, Ala., that was led by Martin Luther King, then a little-known Baptist minister.

Some students yesterday simply pondered the civil rights movement of the era and its long-term results.

“It’s kind of ironic that [Mrs. Parks] fought so black people could sit at the front of the bus, but today we rush to sit in the back,” said Franklin Owens, a 17-year-old sophomore at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast. “Technically, she sat down for our rights. I’m glad she did that, though, because now we have the option to sit in the front or the back of the bus.”

Teachers at the academy tried to give students historical perspective by including lessons on how Irene Morgan and Claudette Colvin also refused to give up their seats to whites, 11 years and nine months, respectively, before Mrs. Parks.

Students also learned that Thurgood Marshall argued the first bus-segregation case before the Supreme Court.

“There were a lot of misconceptions,” said history teacher Akil Kennedy. “Students didn’t know how things were back then.”

Some students said they would have sought revenge had they, like some black passengers, been left behind at bus stops after paying their fares.

“Some said they would egg the bus or punch the driver,” Mr. Kennedy said. “But if you put it in context of the times, they wouldn’t be doing that.”

The Hope Community Public Charter in Northwest connected Mrs. Parks’ legacy to the school’s messagethis weekof “never say die.”

“Rosa Parks exemplifies this proverb in her dedication to the cause and the steps that she was willing to take for that cause,” said Principal George Sanker.

Mr. Sanker said few students understood the racial tension of the era and had not heard of Mrs. Parks before she died peacefully in her Detroit home at age 92.

“So you have to give some background to it and some context,” he said. “You have to delve a little bit into the history of what this person accomplished. … The real link comes when you can bring that back to relevant things in their lives, the way they approach their work, treating one another.”

Sarah Pinkney-Murkey, principal of Rosa Parks Middle School, said some of her students are too young to understand the historical impact of Mrs. Parks’ actions.

“Many of our teachers weren’t even born yet,” she said. And a lot of students “may not understand it at the same level as older children or adults. But they know what it means and what she stood for.”

The school held a moment of silence. Later this week, it will have a presentation on closed-circuit television honoring Mrs. Parks.

Ms. Pinkney-Murkey said she met Mrs. Parks in 1993 during a dedication ceremony at the school.

“She was very caring, soft-spoken,” Ms. Pinkney-Murkey said. “She was a quiet person with a very big message. She believed that if everyone cared about everyone else, then equality would be across the board. She didn’t just talk about black and white; she talked of a good life for everyone and equality for all.”

Chelsea Dubon, 13, said Mrs. Parks’ story will never lose its place in history.

“It’ll get passed down to our children and our children’s children,” she said. “And they’ll know about Rosa Parks.”

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