Civil rights leader Rosa Parks passed away in her Detroit home on Monday evening at age 92, following a long battle with dementia. Parks is best remembered for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man. She was arrested and fined, and her actions touched off a massive protest and inspired a generation of civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
While legend has held that Parks was “too tired” to give up her seat, she was in reality an active member of the NAACP, fully aware of the consequences of her actions. Elaine Steele, friend and executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, told the New York Times, “She was fed up. She was in her 40’s. She was not a child. There comes a point where you say, ‘No, I’m a full citizen, too. This is not the way I should be treated’.”
Remembered as the “mother of the civil rights movement,” Parks worked as a seamstress until 1965, when she was hired in the office of Representative John Conyers (D-MI), where she worked until her 1988 retirement. “Rosa was a true giant of the civil rights movement,” said Rep. Conyers. “Her bravery, fortitude and perseverance in the face of discrimination served as the very touchstone of the civil rights movement, which in a very real sense began when she refused to give up her seat on the bus. Everyone is this country owes a debt of gratitude to her.”
Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her civil rights work, and in 1988 spoke to the ongoing importance of civil rights work, saying, ”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.” The Reverend Jesse Jackson told the Times yesterday, “She sat down in order that we might stand up. Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors for our long journey to freedom.”