The Fight for Racial Equality: ROSA PARKS AN AMERICAN HERO ; All She Did Was to Refuse to Give Up Her Seat on a Bus for a White Passenger. but Rosa Parks' Stand Was the Spark That Lit the Fire of a Nation's Civil Rights Movement. Rupert Cornwell Reports on the Death of a Woman Who Transformed American Society
Cornwell, Rupert, The Independent (London, England)
Almost exactly half a century ago, a weary black seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus. She was arrested and put in jail " and the rest, quite literally, is history.
Strictly speaking, Rosa Parks' gesture of defiance on the evening of 1 December 1955 does not mark the beginning of the civil rights struggle that consumed America for the subsequent decade. That distinction belongs to the 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling, ordering the desegregation of schools.
In fact, she was not even the first black woman to be arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus. In March and October that same year, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith respectively were arrested and punished for doing the same.
But Ms Parks' arrest was different. She was a demure and modest woman, but possessed of a will of steel. She was also married to an activist in the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the oldest and most venerable US civil rights movement, where she gained a reputation as a militant for her efforts to boost black voter registration.
Her arrest gripped the country's imagination and galvanised the emerging civil rights movement. There followed a 380-day boycott of Montgomery buses by the city's blacks, organised in part by a young pastor newly arrived at the city's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, named Martin Luther King. The eventual triumph came nine years later, when President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But the small protest of Rosa Parks was the spark that lit the fire.
On Monday, aged 92, she died, venerated as little less than a 20th century saint. 'A true American hero,' Senator Edward Kennedy called her. 'She sat down in order that we all might stand up " and the walls of segregation came down,' said Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader.
Death was probably a merciful release. She was frail and suffering from dementia, and had hardly appeared in public for a decade. But her impact has been enduring; indeed it may be measured by the career trajectory of another black daughter of Alabama, who has risen to heights of which Rosa Parks could not have imagined 50 years ago.
Three days before she died, Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman to become Secretary of State, returned to her home state and the city of Birmingham, 100 miles north of Montgomery, where she was born. Elegant and immaculate, she was feted at every stop like a rock star " or rather like an aspiring Presidential candidate that, despite repeated denials, some people are convinced she is.
Ms Rice's message was diplomatic, as she repeatedly compared the struggle for democracy in Iraq with the long struggle of blacks to throw off Jim Crow. But it was also a conscious statement of what black Americans could accomplish, when given the chance. But that chance would never have been possible without the peaceful revolution inspired in part by Rosa Parks.
The 42-year-old seamstress paid dearly for her effrontery. She and her husband lost their jobs. Hate callers threatened to kill her, and white supremacists firebombed the homes of her supporters. In 1957, she moved to Detroit " belatedly joining America's great internal migration of the first half of the 20th century, when millions of blacks left the segregated, jobless south and moved to the new industrial cities of the north where work was plentiful and minds less closed.
From there, she watched the landmark events of the campaign for civil rights unfold. That 1957, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School. Three years later, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, staged a non-violent sit-in at a Woolworths cafeteria counter after white waitresses refused to serve them.
In 1961, …
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Publication information: Article title: The Fight for Racial Equality: ROSA PARKS AN AMERICAN HERO ; All She Did Was to Refuse to Give Up Her Seat on a Bus for a White Passenger. but Rosa Parks' Stand Was the Spark That Lit the Fire of a Nation's Civil Rights Movement. Rupert Cornwell Reports on the Death of a Woman Who Transformed American Society. Contributors: Cornwell, Rupert - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 26, 2005. Page number: 28,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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