Recalling visit by Rosa Parks


October 30, 2005

Last week we witnessed the passing of Rosa Parks, the 92-year old "mother" of the modern civil rights movement. Mrs. Parks, who was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, became a powerful symbol of the movement.

On the evening of her arrest, a 26-year-old preacher by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed to the world, "Sister Rosa it is better that we walk in dignity than ride in shame," and with those words, a 381-day boycott of buses in Montgomery, Ala., occurred, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down an ordinance that required African-Americans to ride on the back of the bus.

Mrs. Parks was 42 years old when she refused to give up her seat.

When I met Mrs. Parks in 1984, she was in her 70s and was a featured speaker at the First Baptist Church in Annapolis.

Mrs. Parks, who approached the podium slowly on that day, received a standing ovation from the audience. She spoke very deliberately and recounted for us why she refused to give up her seat.

She told us that in August of 1955, she remembered reading about how Emmett Till had been murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

She said that she felt the grief of Mabel Till, the mother of Emmitt Till, and when she was asked to leave her seat, her refusal to get up was not because she was "physically" tired after a long work day, but because she was tired of the indignities that her people faced daily.

I have a photo of Mrs. Parks and me standing together, a photo that I will always treasure. I remember that when Nelson Mandela came to Detroit, he asked, "where is Rosa?" and chanted her name. Even Nelson Mandela knew the importance of Rosa Parks.

Now, Mrs. Parks will join Dr. King, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer and countless others in the corridors of history. When Mrs. Parks came to Annapolis, she was living history.

Our children got to see her in the flesh, and it is an experience that many will never forget.

Indeed, I will always believe that when Mrs. Parks sat down, the whole world stood up. And to paraphrase Dr. King, we have been walking toward freedom every since.

Rest in peace Mrs. Parks, you have earned that right.

Carl O. Snowden Anne Arundel County intergovernmental relations officer

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