10/28/2005

Hundreds Mourn Civil Rights Hero in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Hundreds of mourners paid their respects Friday to a Civil Rights icon who changed their city and the nation.

In a memorial service held at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Rosa Parks was remembered as a hero whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

"Without Rosa Parks, maybe there might not have been a Dr. Martin Luther King, (and) maybe the Civil Rights Movement would have begun elsewhere," Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees told a standing-room only crowd.

"And maybe there would have been no Southern Poverty Law Center (because) I was inspired by Rosa Parks."

Speaking at the same church from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped direct the Montgomery Busy Boycott started by Parks, Dees and others credited Parks with inspiring not only the Civil Rights Movement, but other movements for justice and equality around the world.

"Rosa Parks was the inspiration not because of any great speech, but simply by the act of her being who she was, someone who refused to let anyone or anything force her to compromise her spirit," said civil rights activist Andrew Young.

Young said Parks led "a life of quiet dignity and self-respect that refused to bow down to laws that she knew were unjust and unfair."

Since her death, mourners across the country have attended services in honor of Parks, who was known to many as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. In many cities, including Montgomery, officials roped off seats at the front of buses to honor Parks' act of courage.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated public bus. The act prompted her arrest and a 381-day boycott of the city's buses, and helped launch Dr. Martin Luther King into the national spotlight.

In recent months many of Parks' supporters have approached current Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, asking him to issue an official pardon to Parks. On Friday, Bright said he sees her legacy differently.

"Instead of pardoning her," Bright said, "We should be begging for her pardon for how we treated her."

During the service, speakers called for celebration and inspiration as well as mourning.

"What Rosa Parks would ask us to do is one simple thing," said Bright. "She would want us to go back to our communities and find one thing that we can make different (that would make) life better for the people living there."

"I hope the people of Montgomery can continue to live in her spirit," said Young. "Rosa Parks brought us to the kingdom, and we love her and thank her."