Rosa Parks, born Feb. 4, 1913, was one of the great civil rights pioneers of the 20th century. After a lifetime dealing with Montgomery, Alabama’s racist law forcing Black citizens who rode city buses to sit in segregated seats at the back, Parks finally decided one Thursday in 1955 to hold her ground and say “no” to discrimination. For her courage, she was arrested, inspiring civil rights activists to boycott the city’s buses for more than a year, until finally the city repealed the law.
In the decades since that 1955 act of defiance, Rosa Parks has touched the lives of countless citizens and fellow civil rights supporters. Some were inspired from afar, while others proudly met Parks and worked alongside her in the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. For many, it was an experience so unforgettable that it even made its way into their obituaries. Today, we honor Rosa Parks by meeting some of the people whose lives she forever changed.
Civil rights activist Johnnie Carr didn’t have to look far to find her Rosa Parks inspiration: She and Parks were childhood friends. Like Parks, Carr became an integral part of the civil rights movement. She participated with Parks in the historic Montgomery bus boycott, and in 1967 she succeeded Martin Luther King Jr. as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, a position she held until her death.
Alice Zelma Harris’s obituary calls her “a legendary drum majorette for civil rights and social justice” and notes that “her parents raised her to defy racism and to know and live like a citizen of the United States.” She was inspired to action by Parks’s arrest: “Zelma was one of thousands on the evening of Dec. 5, 1955 who gathered at the Holt Street Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for the protest for the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Zelma with her 3 young children, participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days.”
Vera Johnson was just as proud to be involved with the struggle for justice in Alabama. A Montgomery native, she “held various positions in the Montgomery Improvement Association, fighting to bring about changes with the bus boycott and civil rights movement… She marched with Martin Luther King many miles in her efforts to gain equality for all. Vera was instrumental with the bus boycott, in Montgomery Alabama, working closely with Rosa Parks. Having met Rosa Parks at Montgomery Fair, Rosa was a seamstress there and Vera operated the elevator, she was familiar with both sides of the boycott movement.”
The Rev. Willie Barrow spent decades on the front lines of the civil rights movement. In the South, she helped organize sit-ins and boycotts with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Known as the “little warrior,” she was an advocate for issues ranging from women’s rights to AIDS awareness.
Virginia Durr was a lifelong civil rights advocate and humanitarian, whose parents bailed Rosa Parks out of jail after she was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat. Durr died Dec. 1, 2016 of a heart attack on the 61st anniversary of Parks’s historic arrest.
Irene Gray Osborne’s obituary proudly proclaims her “part of the energy that changed our world!” Devoted to the cause of desegregation, Osborne “worked hard toward the Brown vs. Board of Ed. Decision in 1954… She spent a lot of her career talking to groups across the country such as interracial councils dedicated to desegregation. Irene published several articles supporting school integration from 1953-1959. Her work allowed her to meet many people, including influential leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks.”
Thomas Bergeson was a leader of the local anti-Vietnam war movement in Michigan and an advocate for the rights of migrant workers, according to his obit. “A lifelong advocate for civil rights, Tom worked with Rosa Parks on civil rights issues… Tom was particularly attuned to the situation of those who were poor or disadvantaged, and never forgot that he too had overcome a difficult childhood. He will be greatly missed by his family and all who knew him.”
Sherick Jovan devoted much of his life to the fight for equality: “As an advocate for civil rights and equality, he began speaking out against injustice, racism and segregation during the late ’60s within his community. During the ’70s he actively began writing and expressing himself about life experiences through his poetry and as a storyteller; he taught and spoke out on issues of civil/human rights and justice for all.”
His chance to meet Rosa Parks came with another honor, as well: “In July 2004, he was awarded a Certificate of Achievement where his name was placed on the Wall of Tolerance in Montgomery, Alabama, presented by Ms. Rosa Parks, Co-founder, National Campaign for Tolerance, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This notable tribute was in appreciation for his community service while in Atlanta, Georgia.”
Before educator Flo Kennedy-Mitchell worked for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, she was involved in the civil rights movement as part of “the committee to help bail out those arrested for ‘sitting-in’ throughout the south… Her efforts were later recognized by Co-Chairpersons Rosa Parks and Morris Dees on October 25, 2001 by having her name placed on the Wall of Tolerance in Birmingham.”
Walter Pratt also got to meet Rosa Parks at an award ceremony—but this fan was presenting Parks with the award instead of the other way around. “While at [the University of California at] Berkeley one of Walters most precious memories was when he was able to present Rosa Parks with an award from the university’s African American Dept.”
Ingrid Scott Weekley may never have met Rosa Parks, but her decades-long career in law and justice and her work for civil rights serve as a tribute to the woman often called the “mother of the civil rights movement.” Among Weekley’s accomplishments was bringing a sculpture of Parks to downtown Grand Rapids.
One of the first African-American police officers in Providence, Rhode Island, William “Moe” Francis was a sergeant in the department for 35 years. The pioneering police officer and World War II Battle of the Bulge veteran was once commended by Rosa Parks, who “praised him for serving as an honorable civil rights pioneer and for protecting her and her staff while visiting Providence.”
Eva Mae Sexton‘s legacy became aligned with that of Parks when she received the NAACP’s Rosa Parks Award in 2004. The longtime Utah resident was a pioneer in her adopted home state: she was the first black woman to vote in Utah and became the state’s first African-American foster parent, providing a home for nearly 200 children during her lifetime.
Rev. Bettie Kennedy was a teacher and a pastor who kept Parks’s legacy alive in a unique way. According to her obit, she was “an amazing storyteller and historian,” who brought to life great African-American women such as Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Sojourner Truth.
Carolyn McCormack had two notable brushes with fame—as a child, Hank Williams Sr. was her babysitter. But more to the point, she was proud of her connection to Rosa Parks. In 1955 she “rode the same bus with Rosa Parks, in which her picture was taken by a U.P. photographer and is now a part of history.”
Len Turpin’s Rosa Parks story was a small one, but no less exciting for the disabled veteran, who did much of his interacting with the world via computer. “The most memorable conversation he had on the computer was with the famous Rosa Parks.”
Originally published February 2013