Obituary: Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Rosa Parks, the African American seamstress who became famous for not given up her bus seat to a white man in 1950s segregated Alabama, died Monday night at the age of 92 of progressive dementia.

Rosa Parks was born as Rosa Lee McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, daughter of James and Leona McCauley. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, who was active in civil rights causes. In the 1940s, Mr. and Mrs. Parks were members of the Voters' League. In December 1943, Parks became active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked as a secretary for the Montgomery, Alabama branch of the NAACP. Of her position she said, "I was the only woman there, and they needed a secretary, and I was too timid to say no." She continued as secretary until 1957 when she left Montgomery. Just six months before her arrest, she had attended the Highlander Folk School, an education center for workers' rights and racial equality. Some accounts portray her as an individual with no particular political background or training.

After her arrest, Parks became an icon of the civil rights movement and suffered hardship as a result. She lost her job at the department store and her husband quit his after his boss forbade him from talking about Rosa or the legal case. Mrs. Parks traveled and spoke extensively to raise money for her legal fees. In August 1957, weary of phone death threats and fearing firebomb attacks on the homes of their supporters, she and her husband accepted the urging of family who feared for her safety and moved to Detroit to live near her younger brother. In 1958 she moved to Hampton, Virginia, where she found a job as a hostess in an inn at Hampton Institute. However, there was not enough room for either her husband and mother to live with her and she moved back to Detroit and worked as a seamstress. She became a staff assistant to U. S. Representative John Conyers in 1965, a position she continued in until her retirement in 1988.

In 1999 a lawsuit was filed on her behalf against the popular American hip hop duo OutKast and LaFace Records, claiming that the group had illegally used her name without her permission for their song "Rosa Parks", the most successful radio single of their 1998 album Aquemini. The case was dismissed in 2004.

Parks received the Rosa Parks Peace Prize in 1994 in Stockholm, Sweden, followed by the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the U.S. executive branch, in 1996. In 1998, she became the first awardee for the International Freedom Conductor Award given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The next year Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch, as well as the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award. In 2000, her home state awarded her the Alabama Academy of Honor as well as the first Governor's Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage. Also, in 1999, Time magazine named Parks one of the top twenty most influential and iconic figures of the twentieth century. She was also awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from universities worldwide and was made an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.


Post a Comment

<< Home