Rosa Parks, the Alabama seamstress whose soft-spoken refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man triggered the Montgomery bus boycott, the first great mass action in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, died yesterday at 92. Parks died at her home in Detroit of natural causes, according to a spokesman for US Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan.
USA gay civil rights groups are remembering the role Parks played in beginning of the fight for equal rights in America. Nearly 50 years ago, Parks’ story began when a white man demanded she give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. The then 42-year-old seamstress said no. “I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to the segregation laws in the South,” she wrote in her 1992 autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same charge of refusing to give up their seat. Parks was jailed and fined $14. Parks was an active member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I think her legacy is the way she demonstrated how one person can make a difference, how a movement is built on the acts of individuals,” Lambda Legal executive director Kevin Cathcart told 365Gay.com. “Her inspiration to all of us is that individual people can create great changes.”
Following the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, a number of the demonstrators said they took their inspiration for protest from Parks.
“Rosa Parks told us to stand up for what we believe in,” James Esseks, litigation director for the ACLU, told 365Gay.com. “While no two civil rights struggles are the same, she was an inspiration to all of us who are working to make sure America treats all of its citizens equally.”
Last year when New Paltz mayor Jason West announced he would perform same-sex weddings despite a state law barring them, he invoked Parks’ name. “The people who would forbid gays from marrying in this country are those who would have made Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus,” West declared.
In 2004, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom made a speech at the John Kennedy School of Government at Harvard said that his issuing of some 4,000 same-sex marriage licenses last year was akin to the actions of Rosa Parks during the civil rights movement.
“With one simple yet extraordinary action, Rosa Parks made our nation a better and fairer place for all Americans,” Human Rights Campaign executive director Joe Solmonese said in a statement yesterday. “By insisting on the dignity and respect every human being deserves, Parks boldly moved the country toward fairness. Parks didn’t stop on the bus, but kept going, working throughout her life to make the world a better place. With her passing, a true legend is lost but an inspiring imprint will always remain.”