Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks Dead at Age 92

Civil-rights pioneer Rosa Parks died today at age 92.

Called "the mother of the civil rights movement," Parks' refusal to give up a seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white person in the segregated South is thought to be the beginning of the public fight for equal rights.

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.

Parks was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to millions. A massive bus boycott that lasted a little over a year put the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a then-unknown 26-year-old, into the national spotlight for the first time.

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Ala., to James McCauley, a carpenter, and Leona McCauley, a teacher, on Feb. 4, 1913. At the age of 2, she moved to her grandparents' farm in Pine Level, Ala., with her mother and younger brother, Sylvester. Parks' father, James, headed North and was rarely heard from.

"My mother taught me self-respect," Parks later recalled. "There's no law that says people have to suffer."

She was educated at home by her mother, a school teacher, until the age of 11, when her family moved back to Montgomery and Parks enrolled in the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, an all-black private school. Parks performed janitorial work in exchange for tuition.

At 19, she met and married barber Raymond Parks. He was 10 years her senior and a passionate civil rights activist. In her first autobiography, "Rosa Parks: My Story," she recalled what had impressed her the most about Raymond: "He didn't seem to have that meek attitude -- what we called an 'Uncle Tom' attitude -- toward white people." Articulate and bold, though with little formal education, it was he who encouraged her to complete her high school education at age 21.

Civil Rights Pioneer

Contrary to the public conception of a quiet, domestic woman who was just too tired from a hard day's work to get up from her seat, Parks was actually a strong civil rights advocate who worked as the secretary in the Montgomery office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In his biography of Parks, Douglas Brinkley wrote, "While the NAACP executives made dinner speeches and attended national conferences, [Parks] balanced the ledgers, kept the books, and recorded every report of racial discrimination that crossed her desk. She also did field research, traveling from towns like Union Springs to cities like Selma to interview African Americans with legal complaints, including some who had witnessed the murders of blacks by whites in rural areas."

In "Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation," a later autobiography, Parks said she wanted to be known as "a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people."

In 1955, the year of the famous bus incident near the intersection of Montgomery and Moulton streets, Parks was 42 years old. She denies that she remained seated because she was tired. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in," she said.

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