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‘Mother of civil rights’ honored at King Center

By Kalin Thomas Contributing Writer | 2/8/2013, noon
King Center CEO Bernice King joined a group of nearly 300 civic leaders and activists in honoring Rosa Parks, the acclaimed “mother of the civil rights movement” on what would have been her 100th birthday. Federal officials also were on hand to unveil a commemorative postage stamp honoring Parks. (Photos by Vincent Christie).

ATLANTA – Nearly 300 people packed The King Center’s Freedom Hall this week to celebrate what would have been civil rights activist Rosa Park’s 100th birthday on Feb. 4.

The highlight of the celebration was the unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service’s commemorative stamp issued that day in honor of the “mother of the civil rights movement.”

Parks now joins several other dignitaries in the Black Heritage Series of stamps who are being honored because they “paved the way for others to come,” said Pamela Wilson-Smith, a district manager for the U.S. Postal Service.

“I’ve done lots of stamp unveilings, but this one is special because Rosa Parks is one of my heroes,” she said. “And it is a ‘Forever’ stamp, which means we will honor and treasure Mrs. Parks forever.”

Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott on Dec. 1, 1955 when she refused to give her seat on an Alabama bus to a white passenger – breaking a law that was customary during that era. Her action sparked a yearlong boycott that would lead to a Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in public transportation and help spark the modern-day civil rights movement.

King Center CEO Bernice King, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall and Southern Christian Leadership Conference chief executive Dr. Charles Steele Jr. joined a spirited group of community leaders, civil rights activists and students who came to honor Parks and other women of the movement.

In her welcome address, King said Parks and other women, while frequently unsung, were the nucleus of the civil rights movement.

“We must never forget it was women who were the impetus of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” she said. “How in the world was the movement going to happen without women?”

Hall said he attended the event to pay tribute to Parks and the other women who paved the way for the social, political and economic rights black people enjoy today.

“My grandmother rode the same buses as Rosa Parks and my father worked with her, so I met Mrs. Parks many times as a child,” Hall told The Atlanta Voice. “And this was a chance to honor women in general who really were the backbone of the civil rights movement.”

Along with music, dance and orations, the audience was treated to more detailed information about that infamous day in 1955 when Parks refused to give up her bus seat.

“There’s much more to the story than not giving up her seat on the bus,” said State Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. “It was a planned protest, and Rosa Parks sacrificed herself for the greater good.”

SCLC first lady Cathelean Steele added: “Rosa Parks was sitting in the middle of the bus known as ‘No Man’s Land’ because it wasn’t the white section or the black section. And the bus driver who made her get off the bus was the same driver who she’d had a confrontation with in 1943.”

Steele added that Parks was no stranger to confrontation or social change.

“Rosa Parks was raised by a grandfather who carried a shotgun to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan, and who taught her about Marcus Garvey,” she said. “So she grew up with activism in her soul.”

State Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague read a state resolution honoring Parks, noting that it was then-Senator Barack Obama who introduced legislation to honor her with a commemorative stamp in 2006.

“How fitting is it that he is now serving his second term as President Barack Obama,” Beasley-Teague said.

A framed copy of the commemorative stamp will hang in “The Rosa Parks and the Women of the Movement Room” at The King Center, officials said.

State Rep. Dawkins-Haigler said of Parks and the commemorative stamp: “Today she won’t be riding the bus – she’ll be traveling the world by first-class mail.”

What would Rosa Parks tell today’s leaders and activists? Evelyn Lowery, president of SCLC W.O.M.E.N., said of her longtime friend and colleague: “If Rosa Parks were alive today I think she’d say: ‘Don’t let the dream die.’ ”