National Council of Churches
the Life and Legacy of Rosa Parks
D.C., October 25, 2005--The National Council of Churches USA has
released the following statement about the passing of civil rights
champion Rosa Parks:
“It is with sadness
and a deep sense of loss that we receive the news about the death of
Rosa Parks. She was a heroine in our midst—one who taught our nation
about courage and determination. She will truly be missed.
Rosa Parks, who was
known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was a trailblazer
and a pioneer. She was a powerful witness to all of us who believe that
one person can make a difference and she will forever be remembered for
her quiet resolve. Although her physical life has ended, her work lives
on even as we continue to fight for justice and equality in this nation.
We hope that America will one day fully honor her sacrifice by ending
poverty and racial disparities, having adequate and affordable housing
and health care, and making sure that workers are paid a living wage for
We will forever be
grateful for the gift of her life and the legacy she leaves us all to
hold fast to our beliefs.”
Contact NCC News:
Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350;
Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252
Rosa Parks, `Sent to Us by God'
By TOM GORDON for the Birmingham
Rosa Louise Parks, a woman of faith whose soft-spoken refusal to give up
her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus launched the civil rights movement,
died Monday (Oct. 24) at age 92.
The Tuskegee, Ala., native, who in 1999 received the nation's
highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, died in Detroit,
where she had lived since 1957. Parks died at home of natural causes,
said Karen Morgan, a spokeswoman for Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
Over the years, Parks spoke to scores
of student, civic and church groups, gave dozens of interviews, received
countless awards and saw streets, schools and rap and pop songs named
"Surely Mrs. Rosa Parks was sent to us
by God, because few among us were so well prepared to play such a
momentous role in history," said Coretta Scott King, widow of civil
rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1999, Time Magazine named Parks one
of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. She even has an
entry in an edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 13 pages away
from the infamous "Segregation now"
remarks in former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's 1963 inauguration
But Parks was not a prominent civil
rights leader and never sought to be one. During the era in which she
was in the spotlight, there were other key events -- such as the U.S.
Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision outlawing public school segregation
-- that helped start the drive to overturn the pervasive discrimination
besetting black Americans.
Also, long before Parks' arrest, black
leaders in Montgomery had been looking for the opportunity to launch a
boycott. But women who had faced the same mistreatment that Parks faced
were not deemed to be suitable candidates around whom to organize a
Still, historians and analysts consider
Parks' quiet act of defiance on Dec. 1, 1955, to be the civil rights
movement's major catalyst. It led to a highly effective mass protest and
a successful court challenge of Alabama segregation laws. And, in
Alabama and elsewhere, it gave blacks additional confidence that the
system could be changed. It also led to the emergence of the civil
rights movement's most influential leader, Martin Luther King.
At the time of her solitary protest,
Parks had been working as a tailor's assistant in the Montgomery Fair
department store and would ride a city bus to and from her downtown job.
For most of the time she rode the bus, black passengers had to sit in
the back. Often, when they bought their tickets at the front of the bus,
they were then obliged to step outside and board through a rear door.
Once, Parks said, she had been ordered off a bus for refusing to reboard
it from the rear.
Whites, meanwhile, sat in the front of
the bus and city law forbade blacks and whites from sitting alongside
each other. If a white boarded and did not have a place to sit, the
nearest black passengers would have to give up their seats so an entire
row would open to the white passenger.
On the afternoon of Dec. 1, Parks and
three other black passengers were told to move to the back after whites
had filled the front of the bus and a white man needed a seat. While the
other three blacks in the row with Parks moved to the back, she did not.
Two police officers came to arrest her, and one asked her why she did
not move. "Why do you all push
us around?" she replied.
"I was thinking that the only way to
let them know I felt I was being mistreated was to do just what I did --
resist the order," Parks recalled years later. "I had not thought about
it and I had taken no previous resolution until it happened, and then I
simply decided that I would not get up.
I was tired, but I was usually tired at the end of the day, and I
was not feeling well, but then there had been many days when I had not
felt well. I had felt for a long time that if I was ever told to get up
so a white person could sit, that I would refuse to do so."
Southern historians Dan Carter and
David Garrow both said fate figured prominently in the case of Parks and
the subsequent leadership role that King played in the 381-day boycott.
"They were figures who ... because of their happenstance presence
and happenstance courage, happened to become individual symbols of
something that was a very broad grass-roots movement rather than
something initiated either by Mrs. Parks or Dr. King," Garrow said.
"I like to believe that she would have
been the first to say that she didn't do anything any different really
than dozens of other black men and women did," Carter said. "It was just
one of those cases where lightning struck, the time was right, the
circumstances were right."
Parks was fingerprinted and released on
bond. Then she appeared in a segregated City Court and was fined $10 and
$4 in court costs. The day of her trial, most blacks stopped using the
Montgomery bus system, relying on their feet or on a coordinated
community carpool system to do their shopping or get to work. That
unprecedented protest lasted 14 months.
While it continued, a federal lawsuit
was filed to challenge the city's bus segregation ordinance and the
state's segregation laws, and a three-judge panel declared the laws
unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling, and a major
wedge was driven in the wall of the segregated South.
"We completely developed the boycott
around what she did. And we felt ... the least thing we could do was
stay off the buses until we could go back on an integrated basis," said
Fred Gray, a lawyer who represented Parks after her arrest and filed the
successful challenge to the segregation laws she had violated. "She was
very tough, very resolute, very determined. But she did it in her