Mother of Civil Rights Hands Down Her Legacy: Rosa Parks Gave Birth to a Movement and Set the Bar for Future Generations
Holmes, Tamara E., Black Enterprise
As thousands of mourners in Montgomery, Alabama; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit attended memorials for Rosa Parks following her death on Oct. 24, civil rights activists and historians sought to define the legacy of the soft-spoken woman dubbed the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." She was 92.
Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus on Dec. 1, 1955, sparked a 581-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system.
Unlike the more vocal faces of the civil rights movement, Parks largely stayed out of the public eye after her act of defiance. However, she inspired the events that led to the outlaw of segregation.
"The mission, the moment, and the lady met at the precise time in order for her symbolism to have the power that it generated for the rest of us," says Russell Adams, chairman of the department of Afro-American studies at Howard University.
Parks engaged in a lifetime of civil rights activism through such organizations as the NAACP. In 1957, she left Alabama partly to escape death threats and moved to Detroit, where she worked for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) as an administrative assistant.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), chairman of the movement's Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee between 1963 and 1966, pointed out in a statement that Parks' action ensured "that a new, young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. …