- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Death at 92 brings wave of impassioned tributes

DETROIT — Tributes abounded yesterday for Rosa Parks, the black woman whose refusal to give a white man her seat on an Alabama bus 50 years ago sparked a protest that helped break racial segregation in America.

Mrs. Parks, who was 92, “transformed America for the better” with her act of defiance, President Bush said.

Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat and the sole black person in the U.S. Senate, called her a “genuine American hero.”

“Through her courage and by her example, she helped lay the foundation for a country that could begin to live up to its creed,” Mr. Obama said.

Friends and family said Mrs. Parks died of natural causes at her Detroit home Monday evening after a visit by her physician and Elaine Steele, a longtime companion and co-director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.

“It happened very quickly, very quickly,” institute co-director Anita Peek said.

The Detroit-based youth education center was founded by Mrs. Parks and Mrs. Steele in 1987.

“They’d just finished talking,” Miss Peek said. “They turned around and went back to say good night and she was gone.”

Mrs. Parks was a 42-year-old seamstress for a department store when she caught a bus in downtown Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955.

Her refusal to bow to the rules and give up her seat to James Blake, a white man who boarded the bus three stops after her, resulted in her arrest. It also sparked a boycott of the Montgomery bus system by black residents led by a then-unknown Martin Luther King.

The boycott lasted 381 days, and 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.

Yesterday’s tributes were tinged with grief as well as gratitude. By remaining seated on the racially segregated bus that day, many said, she let future generations of Americans stand up in dignity.

“She was very humble, she was soft-spoken. But inside she had a determination that was quite fierce,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Today, America mourns the loss of a woman who changed our nation,” said U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who presented Mrs. Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

Mrs. Parks “inspired a whole generation of people to fight for freedom,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a press conference in Ottawa. “I think for all of us her inspiration will live on.”

Yesterday, a black and purple shroud was draped over the bus thought to be the one on which Mrs. Parks committed her historic act. The vehicle is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., beside a large picture of Mrs. Parks.

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