Rosa Parks, often called the mother of the civil rights movement, died peacefully Monday at 92 years of age. She passed away in her Detroit home almost 50 years after taking a stand against segregation on a Montgomery, Ala., bus.
Junior Samantha Rigby, the treasurer of USF’s Black Student Union, is saddened by the death of one of America’s most iconic civil rights personas in history but is inspired by the legacy she left behind.
“It’s sad to hear that she is gone, but she lived a full life, and she has accomplished more than a lot of people,” Rigby said. “It’s important to remember her for what she has done and her reasons for doing it.”
Before Parks refused to give her seat up to a white man, she worked as a seamstress and was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council. Parks also attended an interracial seminar at Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School on civil rights activism training.
“The myth is that she was just a tired seamstress,” said Eric Duke, an instructor in the Africana Studies department. “She was tired that day, but she had also been involved in civil rights activities before she was arrested.”
Segregation laws in Montgomery prohibited blacks from sitting in the front of buses, even if there were no white citizens present on the bus. If all the seats were occupied, black passengers were required to give up their seats to standing white patrons.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat to a standing white man. She refused, like many black men and women before her, and ended up in prison.
“Rosa Parks’ life and actions show the important individual actions undertaken by so many black men and women (that) culminated in the civil rights movement,” Duke said. “She was one of many African-Americans who had fought to give up her seat. Without the everyday contributions of such individuals, leaders would have had no movement to lead.”
After Parks was arrested, leaders of the Montgomery NAACP asked black bus patrons, who represented more than 70 percent of the bus system’s users, to boycott the buses. The boycott lasted 382 days until the Supreme Court declared that the bus system’s segregation policy was unconstitutional.
“Rosa Parks was definitely a woman of integrity,” student body President Maxon Victor said. “The role that she played during this significant time during American history paved the way for the movement. I know that people all alike respect that, because she had the heart, she had the bravery and she stood for a cause.”
Many students and faculty, although admiring the individual efforts of Parks, chose to emphasize the millions of oppressed blacks whom she represented.
“These are all struggles that individuals of African-Americans have faced,” Rigby said. “Everyone must overcome things on smaller and larger levels. Rosa Parks was part of a larger body.”
Others chose to use Parks as an exemplar for future activism.
“It’s not only important to know the life and the legacy of Rosa Parks and those like her, but we also need to discontinue the movement of complacency that our generation has,” USF student Aries Hies said. “There are institutionalized systems that exist around us all the time that we have to try to overcome. It’s important to see what (Parks) did as a stepping-stone. It’s better for us to continue on in the legacy of those whose names we don’t know yet and whose struggles we will never see.”
According to Rigby, the BSU will discuss whether to hold a function to memorialize Parks’ death when they meet on Sunday.
“I don’t want the memory, the cause and the reasons why Rosa Parks chose to take a stand to die with her,” said Rigby.