MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest and the historic bus boycott it sparked will focus on the lesser-known foot soldiers in the protest.
Mrs. Parks, who died Oct. 24, was remembered for helping start the modern civil rights movement with a simple act of defiance — refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955. She inspired about 40,000 blacks in Montgomery to support her with their own defiance.
Led by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and its president, Martin Luther King Jr., they used car pools and church vehicles during a yearlong boycott of the city’s segregated buses. The boycott finally ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an end to racial discrimination in public transportation.
“It has been the intention of the MIA to draw attention to the unsung heroes and ‘sheroes’ of the boycott,” said Robert White, chairman of the 50th anniversary committee, “and her death should help to place things in a proper light.”
Mr. White said the anniversary will acknowledge the contributions of such people as Mary Louis Smith and Claudette Colvin — not such civil rights icons as Mrs. Parks, but others vital to the history of the protest. Both Miss Smith and Miss Colvin had been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats and were among five black women whose federal lawsuit, known as Browder v. Gayle, led to the Supreme Court ruling.
“The celebration of the boycott will be an event that will reflect the contributions that black people have made in the shaping of moral and social consciousness,” Mr. White said.
A week of anniversary events starts Thursday, when a racially mixed delegation of area youngsters marches eight blocks to the Capitol from the downtown spot where Mrs. Parks was arrested — now the site of the Rosa Parks Museum.
A Webcast of the walk will feature interactive forums for children around the world, organizers said. The youngsters participating in this anniversary likely will carry it into future generations, walk coordinator Wayne Sabel said.
“People at the walk will be here for the 100th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott and will be able to tell the youngsters of that [day] that they participated in the walk,” he said.
Lynn Beshear, a member of the walk steering committee, thought the commemoration needed an event that included all the children of Montgomery — black and white.
“It didn’t just free black folks,” she said. “It was about civil rights for everybody,”
Anniversary organizers said Mrs. Parks’ death underscores the need for a new generation of leaders to continue the fight for civil rights. Mr. Sabel said the boycott taught the importance of a community-wide movement.
“If you have a grass-roots movement, the movement creates leaders,” he said. Young people “can’t wait for some leaders to come along. It’s up to the people.”
State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a veteran black political activist in Montgomery, said the recent 10 days of national mourning and remembrance for Mrs. Parks may draw more attention to the 50th anniversary of the boycott.
“In a lot of instances, a person is more popular sometimes in death than they are when they’re living,” Mr. Holmes said. “We wish Rosa Parks could be here with us, but she has taken a flight to heaven, and I’m sure that on that flight, she didn’t have to sit in the back.”