Anniversary this year to focus on others

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 2:53 p.m.
With the death of Rosa Parks, the 50th anniversary of her arrest and the historic bus boycott it sparked will focus on the lesser-known foot soldiers in the protest.
Parks, who died Oct. 24, was remembered for helping start the modern civil rights movement with a simple act of defiance - refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955.
But it took some 40,000 blacks in Montgomery to back Parks with their own defiance. Led by the Montgomery Improvement Association and its president, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., they used car pools and church vehicles during a yearlong boycott of the city's segregated buses. It finally ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an end to racial discrimination in public transportation.
"It has been the intention of the MIA to draw attention to the unsung heroes and 'sheroes' of the boycott and her death should help to place things in a proper light,'' said Robert White, chairman of the 50th anniversary committee.
White said the anniversary will acknowledge the contributions of people like Mary Louis Smith and Claudette Colvin - not civil rights icons like Parks, but vital to the history of the protest. Both had been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seat and were among five black women whose federal court suit, known as Browder vs. Gayle, led to the Supreme Court ruling.
"The celebration of the boycott will be an event that will reflect the contributions that black people have made in the shaping of moral and social consciousness,'' White said.
A week of anniversary events kicks off Thursday when a racially mixed delegation of area youngsters makes an eight-block march to the Capitol beginning at the downtown spot where Parks was arrested - now the site of the Rosa Parks Museum.
A children's choir will sing at the Capitol and young people will be invited to offer petitions of their own dreams to public officials. There will also be a Webcast of the walk with interactive forums for children around the world, according to organizers.
Walk coordinator Wayne Sabel pointed out that the youngsters participating in this anniversary likely will carry it into future generations.
"People at the walk will be here for the 100th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott and will be able to tell the youngsters of that (day) that they participated in the walk,'' he said.
Lynn Beshear, a member of the walk's steering committee, felt the commemoration needed an event that included all the children of Montgomery - black and white.
"It didn't just free black folks, it was about civil rights for everybody,'' Beshear said.
Anniversary organizers said the death of Rosa Parks, at age 92, underscores the need for a new generation of leaders to continue the fight for civil rights. Sabel said the boycott taught the importance of a community-wide movement.
"If you have a grass-roots movement, the movement creates leaders,'' he said. "They (young people) can't wait for some leaders to come along. It's up to the people.''
State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a veteran black political activist in Montgomery, said the recent 10 days of national mourning and remembrance for Parks may draw more attention to the 50th anniversary of the boycott.
"In a lot of instances a person is more popular sometimes in death than they are when they're living,'' Holmes said. "We wish Rosa Parks could be here with us but she has taken a flight to heaven and I'm sure that on that flight she didn't have to sit on the back.''

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