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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Obituary: Rosa Parks
A booking photo from the Montgomery, Alabama sheriff department of Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks was arrested for her refusal to give up her bus seat
It was a small act of defiance, but Rosa Parks' refusal, as a black woman, to give up her bus seat to a white man, would change the course of American history.

On 1 December 1955, the 42-year-old seamstress, and member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was sitting on a bus when a white man demanded to take her seat.

"Are you going to stand up?" the bus driver, James Blake, asked.

"No," she answered.

"Well, by God," the driver replied, "I'm going to have you arrested."

"You may do that," Mrs Parks responded.

At that time, the southern states' rigid segregation laws, which had been in force since the end of the Civil War in 1865, demanded separation of the races on buses, in restaurants and other public areas.

Huge legacy

Even in the North, generally regarded as liberal, black people were barred, by law, from many jobs and neighbourhoods.

Found guilty of breaking the law which required black people to give up their bus seats to whites, Rosa Parks was fined $14.

Mrs Parks was not the first person to defy the law. Two black women, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, had already been arrested for the same offence.

It was a local civil rights leader, ED Nixon, who decided to give Rosa Parks his backing as a standard-bearer of the civil rights movement.

As he said later: "Mrs Parks was a married woman, she was morally clean, and she had fairly good academic training...

"I would probably have examined a dozen more (cases) before I got there, if Rosa Parks hadn't come along, before I found the right one."

'Like any other day'

Her arrest led to a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system, organized by a then unknown Baptist minister, one Reverend Martin Luther King.

This spawned the mass movement which culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and an end to segregation.

"At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this," Mrs Parks recalled. "It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in."

Rosa Parks receiving the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1999
Rosa Parks was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom
She was born Rosa Louise McCauley on 4 February, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Family illness interrupted her high school education, but she graduated from the all-African American Booker T Washington High School in 1928, and attended Alabama State College in Montgomery for a short time.

After marrying Raymond Parks in 1932, she became involved in the NAACP, where she gained a reputation as a militant and a feminist and was the driving force in campaigns to encourage black voter registration.

But Rosa Parks' fame brought its own burdens. Unable to find work in Alabama, and after a number of threats had been made against her, she and her husband moved to Detroit, where a street and a school were named after her.

From 1965 until her retirement in 1988, she worked as an aide to Congressman John Conyers. Widowed in 1977, she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development a decade later, to develop leadership among Detroit's young people.

But she later became worried that younger black people were in danger of taking their rights for granted, saying that older African-Americans "have tried to shield young people from what we have suffered. And in so doing, we seem to have a more complacent attitude.

"We must double and redouble our efforts to try to say to our youth, to try to give them an inspiration, an incentive and the will to study our heritage and to know what it means to be black in America today."

In 1996, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom before being awarded the United States' highest civilian honour, the Congressional Gold Medal, in 1999.

Beyond this, Rosa Parks was an admirer of Malcolm X, a high-profile campaigner against apartheid in South Africa and an outspoken critic of continuing sexism in the civil rights movement.

"I am leaving this legacy to all of you," she said in 1988, "to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfilment of what our lives should be.

"Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die - the dream of freedom and peace."

US civil rights icon Parks dies
25 Oct 05 |  Americas
Rosa Parks: Your tributes
25 Oct 05 |  Have Your Say
OutKast settle Rosa Parks wrangle
15 Apr 05 |  Entertainment


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