Sunday, October 30, 2005

In Honoring Rosa Parks, America Honors Its Ideals

When she refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested, taken downtown and booked. Ultimately, she was fined $10 and lost her job. There were no big newspaper stories. In those days, the newspapers of Alabama scarcely covered civil rights.

That is not the case today. As Parks' body lay in state in the city known as "the Cradle of the Confederacy," thousands of persons, black and white, filed past, the U.S. Secretary of State, a black Alabamian, said she would not be Secretary of State were it not for Parks, and every major Alabama paper had the story on Page 1.

Hundreds of people waited at the Montgomery Airport for the arrival of Parks' body. On this occasion, a police escort of six motorcycles guided her into the city.

Today, Parks will be taken to Washington, where she will be the first woman to ever lie in the Capitol Rotunda. The President of the United States will be there to honor her, as will the Republican governor of Maryland, the leaders of Congress and many more thousands of ordinary people.

Why such an outpouring? Because now virtually all Americans recognize Parks as "the mother of the Civil Rights movement." They know that her refusal to give up her seat on the bus marked the beginning of the historic Montgomery bus boycott, which destroyed segregation on the buses of the Alabama capital and ultimately throughout the U.S.

But, more than that, in honoring Parks, we honor our country and ourselves, for rising above evil racism, for truly becoming the country where all are viewed as equal. It is American ideals which are represented in the story of Rosa Parks.

Maybe, it was retired Times' cartoonist Paul Conrad who showed it best, with his cartoon in the paper the other day. On the bus he drew, on the front seat, there was a plaque in gold: "Rosa Parks Sat Here."

Rosa Parks, dead at 92. But living still in the nation to which she gave so much.

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