Remembering Rosa Parks

By: Renee' LaSalle
By: Renee' LaSalle

More than fifty years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white man, she was honored in Meridian.

With that quiet act, Parks ignited the civil rights movement. Her arrest spawned a 381 day bus boycott that eventually forced the desegregation of public transportation in the U.S., and sparked powerful change in the laws of a nation.

R.D. Harris, now principal of Meridian High School, grew up just down the street from the civil rights icon. Harris was 11 years old when the movement began. Now he says it's important to educate our children so we never forget the lessons of the past.

"A lot of our young people don't know about our past and having celebrations like this helps to get out young people involved and learn about the struggles that their foreparents had," said Harris.

December 1 was the 50 year anniversary of Parks' simple act of defiance. Rosa Parks was laid to rest in October of this year, the first African-American to lie in state in the Capitol of the nation she helped to reshape.

"She wasn't just a little old quiet lady," said organizer Melba Clark. "Mrs. Parks was powerful."

And the powerful change that began that day reached into every aspect of life in the United States.

"Peoples are mixed together," said Lela Mae Spears. "You used to have to go, long time ago, you just had to go to one school. The colored had they school and the whites had they school - and now its de-segregated you can go to any school you want to go to. I have three grandchildren. Fifty years from now, I hope that they'll be able to get any job, hold any position that they're qualified for. And they won't have to be concerned about whether anybody is going to judge them based on their color."

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, Juanita Abernathy stood in the pulpit of the predominantly white First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., recalling those events that included the arrest of her husband, the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy.

Abernathy of Atlanta spoke to a racially diverse audience Saturday. Other speakers at the boycott anniversary event included Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King the Third, the son of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior.

Abernathy was one of many people in Montgomery for events held by the Southern Women's Leadership Development Institute to commemorate the bus boycott anniversary. While there has been civil rights progress, Abernathy says several groups -- especially women -- have yet to reach their potential.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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