November 2, 2005

Rosa Parks: 1913-2005

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On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks made her way home from another exhausting day of work. She was unaware that by her seemingly innocent refusal to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger, she would be thrusting herself and the issue of segregation to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. In remembrance of her life, a memorial service was held in Sage Chapel yesterday, exactly 49 years and 11 months after the infamous Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks died Oct. 24 at the age of 92.

Parks, known for her courageous move in refusing to give up her seat, was a vital leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and is considered to have been the key initiator of the struggle to end legal segregation throughout Alabama and the United States.

“[Rosa Parks] was the spark that ignited a movement,” said Prof. Robert Harris, Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development. “She stimulated African Americans across the country to end segregation … and indignation.”

The memorial service consisted of readings from her book Quiet Strength; a performance by the Chosen Generation Gospel Choir, poetry readings by Prof. Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, English; of “Ode to Rosa Parks” by Steve Scafidi; and Rita Dove, “On the Bus with Rosa Parks,” and ended with a candle lighting.

A seamstress, Parks was one of the few African Americans to successfully register to vote and also served as the secretary to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the Montgomery chapter. In fact, after her arrest and proceeding boycott of the bus system, journalists speculated that she had in fact been planted on that bus in order to test the segregation laws. In a reading from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story,” he answered these claims by writing, “[Rosa Parks] had been planted [on the bus] by personal sense and self respect.” He went on, writing that she was “a victim of both the forces of history and the forces of destiny.”

With her death, Parks surpassed another boundary by becoming the first woman to be honored in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. She, along with Thurgood Marshall, is the second African American to be honored here. The Rotunda, according to Reverend Kenneth Clarke, Sr., director of Cornell United Religious Work, is a place usually reserved for presidents and war heroes. However, he noted that she did fit the description of a “war hero” as pertaining to the fight for civil rights with her “non-violent resistance to evil.”

In her book Quiet Strength, Parks explains herself, writing, “I did not feel any fear … all I felt was tired … it was time for someone to stand up – or in my case, to sit down. I refused to move.”

Parks was active her entire life, founding the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Development after her husband’s death in 1977. This institute helped to promote civil rights and to educate younger generations the history of the movement. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Bill Clinton in 1996, and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

In his closing remarks, Clarke reiterated how Parks had no intention of impacting the whole movement and the world.

“She sat so others could stand,” he said. “Rosa Parks lit a candle … instead of cursing the darkness that was racial segregation.”

Archived article by Emily Gordon
Sun Staff Writer