By The Associated Press
DETROIT — Nearly 50 years ago, Rosa Parks made a simple decision that sparked a revolution. When a white man demanded she give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, the then 42-year-old seamstress said no.
At the time, she couldn’t have known it would secure her a revered place in American history. But her one small act of defiance galvanized a generation of activists, including a young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and earned her the title “mother of the civil rights movement.”
Parks died Monday evening at her home of natural causes, with close friends by her side, said Gregory Reed, an attorney who represented her for the past 15 years. She was 92.
“It was great having her amongst us in Detroit especially, and hopefully it will encourage others in our community to continue to stand up for equality,” said Johnnie Jenkins, co-founder and director of Detroit Black Gay Pride. “The civil rights movement hasn’t necessarily ended, it’s just evolved, and that’s the legacy that she’s behind.”
“Her contributions in the fight for equality for blacks paved the way for millions of blacks in America and abroad,” said Stonewall Democrats Black Caucus Co-Chair Jasmyne Cannick. “Parks’ legacy should be a reminder to us all that it is our responsibility and right to fight injustice and inequality with every breath and step that we take in hopes of making this world a better place. Today is a sad day for black America, America and the world.”
In 1955, Jim Crow laws in place since the post-Civil War Reconstruction required separation of the races in buses, restaurants and public accommodations throughout the South, while legally sanctioned racial discrimination kept blacks out of many jobs and neighborhoods in the North.
Parks, an active member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was riding on a city bus Dec. 1, 1955, when a white man demanded her seat.
She refused, despite rules requiring blacks to yield their seats to whites. Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same charge, but Parks was jailed. She also was fined $14.
U.S. Rep John Conyers, in whose office Parks worked for more than 20 years, remembered the civil rights leader as someone whose impact on the world was immeasurable, but who never sought the limelight.
“I remember her as an almost saint-like person. And I use that term with care,” he said. “She was very humble, she was soft-spoken, but inside she had a determination that was quite fierce.”
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called Parks courageous. “Her quiet activism inspired the tens of thousands who recognized her individual act as a broader symbol against racism, segregation and the contemptible Jim Crow laws that long tarnished our nation,” he said. “Rosa Parks’ legacy will live on for generations, providing inspiration for all those striving to extinguish the inequalities that continue to plague us, from racial and economic injustices to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
“With one simple yet extraordinary action, Rosa Parks made our nation a better and fairer place for all Americans,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
“Everybody wanted to explain Rosa Parks and wanted to teach Rosa Parks, but Rosa Parks wasn’t very interested in that,” Conyers said. “She wanted them to understand the government and to understand their rights and the Constitution that people are still trying to perfect today.”