Civil rights veterans remember Rosa Parks

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 31, 2005

Staff report

MONTGOMERY (AP) – Veterans of the Montgomery bus boycott urged hundreds at an energetic memorial for Rosa Parks on Friday to not only celebrate the civil rights leader’s courage but to carry on her legacy through their actions.

“Go back to wherever you came from and put it to action!” 94-year-old Johnnie Carr told a standing-room-only crowd at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, which was led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1955 boycott.

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Parks, who died Monday at 92 at her home in Detroit, ignited the boycott and the modern civil rights movement on Dec. 1, 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

A sobering enlargement of Parks’ black and white police mugshot from the day of her arrest faced the audience from the pulpit.

More than 500 people, including dozens of elected officials, attended the memorial, which was sponsored by the city of Montgomery and the Montgomery Improvement Association, an organization founded during the bus boycott.

The memorial was one of several planned to honor the civil rights pioneer. Parks will lie in repose Saturday at the St. Paul AME Church in Montgomery, Ala., and a memorial service will be held at the church Sunday morning.

Also, Congress has agreed that the body of Parks will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday and Monday, making her the first woman to receive the privilege in death. Following her viewing in the Capitol, a memorial service was planned for Monday at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington.

Gov. Bob Riley, who was in Washington and could not attend the Montgomery memorial, issued a proclamation through his chief of staff Toby Roth, declaring Oct. 24 “an official day of mourning and celebration” to honor Parks. Roth said Riley would attend the Sunday memorial.

Carr, president of the improvement association, met Parks when they were schoolmates in the 1920s and said, “I’m thankful to God that I had the opportunity to know _ not hear about _ but know Rosa Parks.”

Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta who had been a top lieutenant of King, a U.S. congressman and United Nations ambassador, said he was always impressed by Parks’ dignity and humility. He said Parks would describe the bus incident as if “it was an accident.”

Parks’ quiet protest that day was significant because, “If she could not survive as humble and as sweet as she was in a segregated society _ nobody could survive,” Young said.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said he had heard of a call for an official pardon of Parks, but he refused to grant her one.

“She doesn’t need a pardon. …We should be begging for her to pardon us,” Bright told the crowd over roaring applause.

State Reps. Alvin Holmes and John Knight, both Democrats, led a delegation of legislators at the memorial. Holmes, in his address, dismissed rumors over the years that Parks was planted as a protester on the bus by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Actually no one can understand the actions of Mrs. Parks unless they realize that the cup of endurance runneth over sometimes,” Holmes said, saying Parks was motivated by the other blacks who were bullied off buses before her.