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Rosa Parks, the Spark that Ignited a Nation's Conscience
By: Keith Owens
Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Chronicle
Originally posted 10/26/2005

DETROIT (NNPA) – Fifty years ago, the fate of an entire movement – and of an entire generation of Americans – hinged on the decision of one very tired and fed up Black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a White person in 1955.

The result was the Montgomery bus boycott, launched that same year, and led by a little-known and very young preacher by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Had Parks decided to give way to the status quo and relinquish her seat, her name would have remained unremarkable throughout history and it is difficult to imagine what might have become of the civil rights movement – if there would have even been such a movement.

Every flame requires its spark.

But Ms. Parks did not move, and that one small act of defiance – or what may have appeared to be small at the time – set in motion a chain of events that radically changed not only race relations in America but the history of the world. If ever there was a shining example of how one person can make an incredible difference, Ms. Parks set the standard for such an example. It can honestly be said that she is one among a relative handful of Americans whose life defined an entire nation.

On Monday evening, at the age of 92, Rosa Parks, considered by many to be the mother of the civil rights movement, died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Detroit, the city she adopted as her own in when she moved here in 1957. Although her death was not totally unexpected, the immediate reaction was nevertheless one of both anguish mixed with high praise.

“Mother Parks represents someone who ignited a fire that was so bright and so hot that America has to recognize how big it really was. So she changed America and therefore changed the world,” said Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. “We need to understand and believe that we can do and be anything we want to be and if a small, tiny, great, and nice lady like Mother Rosa Parks can stand up then that is what her legacy should mean to us.”

Kilpatrick added that the City of Detroit will formally honor Parks on Dec. 1, although the details of that upcoming event have not yet been released. In addition, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick has initiated legislation to rename the INS building the Rosa Parks building. Although the legislation has been in the works for several months, it is not yet official.

“Rosa Parks was like precious gold; she increased in value as each year went by,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP. “She was a treasure putting her life on the line for so many others who are the beneficiaries of the struggle that she helped to ignite over a half century ago. The fact that we in Detroit and all over the world can celebrate victories, and freedoms and democracy, is a tribute to the fact that the power of one person reaches beyond their grasp, and it shows us that we can make a difference.

“One of the challenges of our struggle is that we’ve gotten comfortable in our success, and therefore many of us do not struggle, or believe that there’s still one to be waged.
We fail to transfer the necessity to be engaged in the civil rights and equal rights movement. We’ve not transferred it into the spirit and the lives of our young people, and therefore I still think we still must get out and cast our ballots, because if you really want to pay tribute to Rosa Parks, vote like your life depends on it.”

Former Mayor Dennis Archer, who was recently named as Parks’ court-appointed attorney and who now serves as chair of Dickinson Wright PLLC, also spoke of the sizable impact she made on his own life.

“As I grew older, and began to develop my profession, I began to fully appreciate, in a more global way, the impact that Ms. Parks had,” he said. “When you appreciate her demeanor, her sensitivity, her concern for children, the advancement of civil rights, you begin to understand the broader global impact of what one person, without title, without having been in elected office, without owning or running a corporation, can do to make enormous impact on both America and the world.”

Parks continued to be an activist long after her historic act, and received numerous honors and awards for her contributions, including the NAACP’s highest honor, the Springarn Medal, which she received in 1979, and the U.S. government’s highest honor, the Medal of Freedom, which she received in 1999 from President Bill Clinton.

Parks worked for a number of years as an officer for the NAACP during the 1940s and ‘50s, and later spent more than two decades working for Congressman John Conyers.

She has met and been honored by a list of national and world dignitaries that includes the late Pope John Paul II and former South African President and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

As of press time, funeral arrangements had not yet been finalized. Swanson Funeral Home Inc. is handling the arrangements.

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