- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

With a single act of civil disobedience, Rosa Parks sparked unprecedented consequences in the civil-rights movement. Every American owes a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Parks, who died Monday of natural causes at the age of 92 in Detroit. She will lie in repose today and tomorrow in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, the first woman to be so honored.

On Dec. 1, 1955, a 42-year-old Mrs. Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger in segregated Montgomery, Ala. Her actions would soon become a symbol for the civil-rights movement, a challenge to the country to adhere to its ideals. Her arrest and conviction of violating the segregation laws sparked a successful 381-day bus boycott and inspired a little-known Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr., then just 26 years old, to be a leading voice for desegregation. Her case made it to the Supreme Court the following year, where the segregation laws were overturned. The rest is history.

A congressional aide for 20 years, Mrs. Parks retreated from the public eye in recent years, but not before leaving a series of interviews and a 1992 autobiography, “My Story,” explaining her views on the role she played in the fight against segregation. That record speaks worlds about Mrs. Parks’ humility and wisdom. It shows why a black seamstress in the segregated South came to be a towering symbol for racial equality and the country’s highest ideals.

Mrs. Parks never intended to lead a movement; she simply wanted to go about her normal business with dignity. A moment’s hesitation could have changed things irrevocably. But it didn’t. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true,” she wrote in “My Story.” I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old … No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” She realized that simply rolling over for unjust treatment would only encourage more. “Y’all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats,” she recounted the bus driver as saying. “I could not see how standing up was going to ‘make it light’ for me,” she wrote. “The more we gave in and complied, the worse they treated us.”

Still, as she admitted in the same book, “If I had let myself think too deeply about what might happen to me, I might have gotten off the bus.” Any person might have hesitated: In the coming days, Mrs. Parks would lose her job and her husband would quit his own job over the incident. She would face a $14 penalty and a conviction. The road thenceforth would have seemed only to bring troubles. But she chose it.

Scarcely is a textbook published today that fails to credit Mrs. Parks as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was awarded more than 40 honorary doctorates. But in many respects she spent her final years underappreciated, or at least underserved. She lived modestly and reportedly suffered financial difficulties in her final years, to the point that her landlord is said to have stopped charging her rent.

Mrs. Parks’ later exhortations were understated. People should “be dedicated enough to make useful lives for themselves and to help others,” she was fond of saying. In her own modest way, that describes the tremendous legacy of Rosa Parks.

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