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Rosa Parks, 1913-2005, Civil Rights Icon Dies at Age 92

Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

Civil Rights Icon Dies at Age 92

Patricia Sullivan, Washington Post

Rosa Parks, the dignified African American seamstress whose refusal
to surrender a bus seat to a white man launched the modern civil rights movement and inspired generations of activists, died last night at her home in Detroit, the
Wayne County medical examiner's office said. She was 92.

No cause of death was reported immediately. She had been suffering
from dementia since 2002.

Parks said that she didn't fully realize what she was starting when
she decided not to move on that Dec. 1, 1955 evening in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a simple refusal, but her arrest and the subsequent protests began the complex cultural struggle to legally guarantee equal rights to Americans of all races.

Within days, her arrest sparked a 380-day bus boycott, which led to a
U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated the public transportation of that
city. Her arrest also triggered mass demonstrations, made the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr. famous, and transformed U.S. schools, workplaces and housing.
Hers was "an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and
freedom," King said in his book "Stride Toward Freedom."

"She was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and
self-respect. She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn."

She was the perfect test-case plaintiff, a fact that activists realized only after
she had been arrested. Hard-working, polite and morally upright, Parks had long
seethed over the everyday indignities of segregation, from the menial rules of bus
seating and store entrances to the mortal societal endorsement of lynching and

She was an activist already, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A member of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church all her life, Parks admired the self-help philosophy of Booker T.
Washington to a point. But even as a child, she thought accommodating segregation
was the wrong philosophy. She knew that in the previous year, two other women had
been arrested for the same offense, but neither was deemed to be right to handle the
role that was sure to become one of the most controversial of the century.

But it was as if Parks was born to the role. Rosa McCauley was born Feb. 4, 1913 in
Tuskegee, Alabama, the home of Booker T. Washington's renowned Tuskegee Institute,which drew many African American intelligentsia. She was the daughter
of a carpenter and a teacher, was small for her age, had poor health and suffered chronic tonsillitis. Still a child when her parents separated, she moved with
her mother to Pine Level, Ala., and grew up in an extended family that included her maternal grandparents.

Her mother taught Parks at home until she was 11, when she was enrolled in the
Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery, where her aunt lived. Segregation was
enforced, often violently. As an adult, she recalled watching her grandfather guard the front door with a shotgun as the Ku Klux Klan paraded down their road. Her
younger brother, Sylvester, a decorated war hero in World War II, returned to a South that regarded uniformed veterans of color as "uppity" and demonstrated its disdain with beatings.

She married barber Raymond Parks in 1932 at her mother's house. They shared a
passion for civil rights; her husband was an early supporter of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of young African-Americans charged with the rape of a white woman.

At her husband's urging, Mrs. Parks finally earned her high school degree in 1933, when fewer than 7 percent of blacks had graduated from high school. About the same time, she was finally allowed to register to vote, on her third try. She briefly was able to see past the racial separation of the times when she worked at Maxwell Air Force Base, where segregation was banned.