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 Monday. She was 92. The boycott brought to national prominence a 26-year-old Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. He later inscribed a copy of his book "Stride Toward Freedom" to Mrs. Parks, "Whose creative witness," he wrote, "was the great force that led to the modern stride toward freedom."
That act of "creative witness" made Mrs. Parks a world icon of freedom and earned her the popular title "mother of the civil rights movement."
"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 autobiography, "Rosa Parks: My Story" (1992). "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."
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said last night he felt a personal tie to Mrs. Parks: "She stood up by sitting down. I'm only standing here because of her."
US Representative Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, lauded Mrs. Parks's mettle, Boston Globe reports.
"I truly believe that there's a little bit of Rosa Parks in all Americans who have the courage to say enough is enough and stand up for what they believe in," Rangel said.
Whites made up less than a third of the ridership of the Montgomery public transit system in 1955, and blacks had long regarded bus segregation as one of the most onerous local aspects of Jim Crow. City buses had 36 seats. Under Alabama law, the first 10 were reserved for whites. The last 10 were customarily reserved for blacks. The middle 16 were a kind of racial no man's land, where seating was at the driver's discretion. Black passengers had to give up their seats to white passengers. In addition, drivers (all of whom were white) could make black passengers, once they had paid their fare at the front, exit the bus and reenter through the door at the back of the bus.