Rosa Parks Passes; Famed Civil Rights Activist Dies at 92

DETROIT — People worldwide are mourning the death of the woman known as the mother of the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks died Monday evening at her home in the Riverfront Apartments in Detroit, her spokeswoman and longtime friend Elaine Eason Steele said. “She went away peacefully,” Steele said. Parks was 92.

Steele and Parks’ physician, Dr. Sharon Oliver, were present. Swanson Funeral Home in Detroit is handling the arrangements.

The humble black woman made history by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus on Dec. 1, 1955.

A black person refusing to move so a white person could sit down was almost unheard of back then.

But soon the world heard of Parks’ quiet act of courage.

Her refusal ignited a fire that spread until racial segregation was burned out in the United States. Her simple act of defiance earned her worldwide acclaim, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s highest award-the Spingarn Medal-the Congressional Gold Medal awarded by former President Bill Clinton and a peace prize in Sweden.

After she was arrested, black people in Montgomery refused to ride the city’s buses. They walked or used a well-organized car pool put together by the city’s black churches. They boycotted the buses for a year and created a model of mass protest unlike anything that has been seen since in the United States.

Freedom fighters across the world were inspired by her courage.

She was born Rosa Louise McCauley on Feb. 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Ala.

Although people generally associate Parks with the boycott, her activism began years before the Montgomery bus action and continued until her health failed her in recent years.

She was one of the first women to join the NAACP in Montgomery in 1943.

For several years, she served as secretary of the Montgomery branch and adviser of its youth council. She long had a special affection for young people, even though she and her husband, the late Raymond Parks, never had children of their own. He preceded her in death in 1977.

In 1957, Rosa and Raymond Parks moved to Detroit to find work and to escape harassment that continued after the boycott.

In Detroit, she worked first as a seamstress in a factory and then in 1965 began working as an assistant to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat.

She retired in 1988.

In 1987, she and Steele created the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. It was a way to honor her husband’s memory and continue working with young people.

Parks’ health had been declining for the past several years. She made rare public appearances and when she did, she usually did not speak.

Her last public appearance was at a 90th birthday celebration at the Detroit Opera House on Feb. 14 , 2003. A concert featured Three Mo Tenors. She appeared on stage briefly while the audience joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to her. However, she was too weak to sit through a concert. Earlier that day, at a private reception, she was named an honorary member of the Links, an international service group of black women.

Parks’ relatives planned a family reunion to coincide with her birthday celebration. She appeared briefly at a banquet at the downtown Marriott to be photographed with family members on Feb. 16.

Prior to that her last public appearance was at a birthday celebration the year before. It doubled as a premiere for a made-for-TV movie about her life. It was held at the Detroit Institute of Arts on her 89th birthday on Feb. 4, 2002.

Several of the movie’s stars, including Angela Bassett, who played Parks, and Cicely Tyson, who played her mother, joined thousands of well-known and little-known admirers at the gala. Stevie Wonder serenaded her with a lively rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

She never got caught up in her celebrity.

“I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would put an end to the segregation laws in the South,” she wrote in “Rosa Parks: My Story.” “I only knew that I was tired of being pushed around.”