[Congressional Record Volume 141, Number 176 (Wednesday, November 8, 1995)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E2135-E2140]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                     FREEDOM'S DRUMMER: ROSA PARKS


                         HON. JOHN CONYERS, JR.

                              of michigan

                    in the house of representatives

                       Wednesday, November 8, 1995

  Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, for several decades now, I have had the 
privilege of knowing a woman who set great wheels of social change in 
motion. Forty years ago this year, she gave birth not to one life but 
to many lives by igniting the energies of the civil rights movement. 
From a single, simple act of courage, she showed those suffering in the 
Nation how to move from hope to determination. That woman was Rosa 
Parks, and she accomplished all this by refusing to sit in the back of 
the bus. The article I am entering into the Record today from the 
Washington Post Magazine tells her story, and I believe it will move 
you the way it did me:

            [From the Washington Post Magazine Oct. 8, 1995]

                     A Person Who Wanted To Be Free

                          (By Walt Harrington)

       Bus No. 5726: A shell, really, a decaying hulk with its 
     glass eyes missing from their windshield sockets, red rust 
     marching like a conquering fungus from its roof, down and 
     around bullet-pocket windows to its faded green and yellow 
     sides. An era's relic, stored in the wind, rain and 
     stultifying summer sun on the vo-tech school's back lot, 
     stored on the chance that the people of Montgomery, Alabama, 
     will someday reach a place in mind and heart where they will 
     find, who knows, $100,000 to refurbish it as a lesson from 
     that night 40 years ago, December 1, 1955, when a city bus 
     driver asked a prim black woman to leave her window seat so 
     that a white man could sit, and she uttered an almost 
     inaudible, ``No.'' It was an ordinary evening, Christmas 
     lights flickering, people hurrying home past the banner 
     ``Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.'' Even Rosa Parks, 42 
     then, was thinking about all she had to do in the next few 
     days. But at the instant she refused to move, as Eldridge 
     Cleaver once said, ``Somewhere in the universe, a gear in the 
     machinery shifted.'' The wonder of it: Imagine the chances 
     that so precise a moment of reckoning would be encoded in our 
     collective consciousness. Stop time: Look back, look ahead, 
     jot a note, nothing will ever be the same. The stopwatch of 
     history has been pressed now, at this instant of resonance, 
     this flash of leavening light.
       Bus No. 5726: It is not the bus--the bus is long lost. 
     After all, that December 1 trip seemed like just another run 
     on the Cleveland Avenue line. Business as usual, but this 
     artifact from that time, most of its seats now gone, is still 
     a narrow passageway from then to now, a time-tunnel. Scores 
     of wasps inhabit the place, a few flying in and out of the 
     missing windows, most huddling and pulsing en masse on their 
     nests. A headlight that will never again illuminate 
     languishes on a mantel behind the long rear seat, which was 
     always occupied by ``coloreds.'' The dust on that seat and 
     others, that dust on the floor, is so thick that the interior 
     is like a sidewalk caked with dry, powdery dirt after a 
     flood. On the filthy floor is a red plastic bucket marked by 
     the moment the white paint was last poured from it. Small 
     hinges and a batch of tiny screws are strewn haphazardly 
     about, as if a conjurer had, with the flick of a wrist, 
     tossed them there like metal bones in an effort to read some 
     meaning into it all, discern the mystery.
       The smells are of age and dust and raging summer heat, the 
     lessons are of change and intransigence so great it is hard 
     now even to comprehend. The dirty air tightens the lungs, 
     like breathing gravel. A seat is torn in a cut-away display; 
     old wood, followed by coarse dark fiber, followed by soft 
     white stuffing--the hidden layers, like those of America, 
     finally laid bare.
       ``A gear in the machinery shifted.''
       Yes, but why?
       Why Montgomery? Why 1955?
       Most of all, why Rosa Parks?
       ``Yeah, I know'd her,'' says A.T. Boswell, an erect 79-
     year-old man poised in front of his house, a hardscrabble 
     house with a tin roof and tilting chimney that sits beneath a 
     huge sheltering water oak in Pine Level, Ala., precisely 20 
     miles southeast of Montgomery on Route 231. It was a long 
     distance for Rosa Parks and America to travel. In bib 
     overalls, Mr. Boswell stands with his giant hands planted 
     powerfully on his hips, his eyes clear, his long face narrow 
     at the chin and wide at the forehead a triangle standing on 
     its tip. A thin scar, evidence of a bout with a barbed wire 
     fence decades ago, runs the length of his left forearm. His 
     voice, from deep in his chest, seems to roil his words before 
     they arrive, creating a dialect almost too foreign for a 
       She's related to my people,'' he says of Rosa Parks.
       ``Who was her mama?'' asks Julia Boswell, Mr. Boswell's 
     wife of 52 years. she has joined him in the sunny yard, her 
     hands clasped casually behind her back. At 69, she is short, 
     round and relaxed to Mr. Boswell's tall, gaunt and formal. 
     She wears a denim hat with a round brim that casts a shadow 
     over her face, a blue-and-white house dress and a white 
     apron. Beyond the house, her laundry is drying on the line. 
     Mr. Boswell rumbles a response.
       ``Oh, Leona!'' Mrs. Boswell interprets. ``Leona and cousin 
     Fannie were sisters. Well, his grandmother was they aunt. She 
     was Leona Edwards' aunt. That was Rosa Parks' mother.''
       ``She was raised on the farm,'' says Mr. Boswell.
       Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, Ala., in 1913. By the time 
     she was a toddler, the marriage of her mother and father was 
     pretty much over and Leona had moved back to Pine Level to 
     live with her parents. Leona wasn't your average country 
     woman. She was a schoolteacher who had attended the 
     private Payne University in Selma at a time when public 
     education for most of Alabama's black children ended in 
     the sixth grade. Unlike nearly all black families near 
     Pine Level, Leona's family didn't crop for shares. The 
     family owned 12 acres of land that one of Rosa's great-
     grandfathers, a Scotch-Irish indentured servant, had 
     bought after the Civil War and another six acres one of 
     her grandmothers had inherited from the family of a 

[[Page E 2136]]
     white girl she'd once cared for. In that time and place, the family of 
     Rosa Parks was comfortable.
       While many blacks then felt compelled to smile and shuffle 
     around whites, such behavior was banned in her home. Rosa's 
     maternal grandfather, the son of a white plantation owner and 
     a seamstress house slave, had been mistreated terribly as a 
     boy by a plantation overseer and he hated whites. He wouldn't 
     let Rosa and her brother, Sylvester, play with them. Rosa 
     once stayed up late with him as he sat resolutely, shotgun at 
     the ready, while the Ku Klux Klan rode the countryside. He 
     told her he's shoot the first Klansman through the door. Her 
     grandfather was so light-skinned that he could easily pass 
     for white, and he took joy in reaching out and shaking the 
     hands of white strangers, calling them by their first names 
     and introducing himself by his last name, dangerous 
     violations of racist protocol at the time.
       Young Rosa took her cues from her grandfather and stood up 
     to white children who tried to bully her, although her 
     grandmother warned that she'd get herself lynched someday. 
     That Rosa had white ancestors on her mother's side and her 
     father's side made the hard line between black and white seem 
     even more ludicrous. As a girl, she secretly admired a dark-
     skinned Pine Level man who always refused to work for whites. 
     Years later, one of the traits that attracted her to her 
     future husband, Raymond, was that he had faced down white 
     bullies and even helped raise money for the defense of the 
     Scottsboro Boys, nine black Alabama youths convicted in 1931 
     on flimsy evidence for supposedly raping two white woman.
       Rosa was a quiet, polite girl, petite and delicate. She 
     played tag, hide-and-seek and Rise Sally Rise with the other 
     kids but wasn't much of a rough-houser, played a lousy game 
     of baseball. She had a sweet voice, loved to sing gospel in 
     church, read the Bible to her grandmother after her eyes 
     failed. Rosa's mother expected her children to excel in 
     school. Rotha Boswell, a cousin of Rosa's who is now 81, even 
     remembers a time Leona spanked Rosa's brother for getting 
     lower marks than Rotha, who always thought Leona believed her 
     children were better than everybody else's.
       The strength and confidence of Rosa Parks and her family 
     don't exactly jibe with the Rosa Parks myth--the myth that 
     emerged from her refusal to move to the back of the bus in 
     1955, the myth that served the needs of the emergent civil 
     rights movement and the myth that spoke so eloquently to 
     black and white America: She was a poor, simple seamstress, 
     Rosa Parks, humble and gentle, no rabble-rouser, a meek Negro 
     woman, exhausted from a hard day's work, a woman who had been 
     abused and humiliated by segregation one time too many, who 
     without forethought chose to sit her ground. In truth, Rosa 
     Parks was far more and far less than the mythology that 
     engulfed her and that became the mobilizing metaphor of the 
     Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted 381 days, raised the 
     unknown Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to international 
     prominence and helped launch the modern civil rights 
       Rosa Parks was not a simple woman. She wasn't meek. She was 
     no more tired that day than usual. She had forethought 
     aplenty. She didn't start the Montgomery bus boycott or the 
     civil rights movement, neither of which burst forth from any 
     single symbolic act. Forty years later, the defiance of Rosa 
     Parks and the success of the boycott are enshrined in mystery 
     and myth that obscure a deeper truth that is even richer, 
     grander and more heroic. ``I know you won't write this,'' 
     says Aldon Morris, sociologist and author of Origins of the 
     Civil Rights Movement, ``but what Rosa Parks did is really 
     the least significant part of the story. She refused to give 
     up her seat and was arrested. I'm not even completely 
     comfortable with deflating the myth. What I'm trying to say 
     is we take that action, elevate it to epic proportions, but 
     all the things that happened so she could become epic, we 
     drop by the wayside * * * That she was just a sweet lady who 
     was tired is the myth * * * The real story of Montgomery is 
     that real people with frailties made change.
       ``That's what the magic is.''
       Back in her front yard, Mrs. Boswell waves her hand in the 
     air to stop the conversation, walks toward the porch to fetch 
     her purse and says, ``I'm gonna take you to someone else's 
     house.'' No place is more than a few minutes away in Pine 
     Level, but the trip detours to the Mount Zion African 
     Methodist Episcopal Church on old Route 231, where the 
     Boswells, Rosa Parks and just about every black resident of 
     Pine Level have always gone to church. The original frame 
     church, where Rosa Parks's uncle was the pastor, is gone, 
     replaced with a utilitarian cinder block church, stark white.
       The church is locked and she and her husband walk through 
     the shady graveyard north of the church. They look for stone 
     markers with the names of Mrs. Park's forebears, but find 
     none. ``We didn't have markers then,'' says Mrs. Boswell, her 
     purse slung over her left shoulder and tucked neatly under 
     her arm. ``A lot ain't got no markers now. They just buried 
     in the dirt. Then forgot 'em and buried somebody else on top 
     of 'em. That's the way it be . . . I got a grandmother and 
     grandfather out here and I don't know where they at. Since my 
     mother passed, I don't know where they at.'' If Mrs. 
     Boswell's mother, who died in 1958, were alive today, she'd 
     think the change in race relations since 1955 was a miracle. 
     ``She wouldn't a believed it,'' Mrs. Boswell says with 
     finality. After a pause, she says, ``I wouldn't a believed it 
     either.'' She, too, believes it was a miracle.
       ``White men here,'' Mrs. Boswell says, as she walks from 
     grave to grave, ``they kilt an innocent bystander boy, buried 
     right down there.'' She points to a corner of the graveyard. 
     She figures it was in the '30s. ``His last name was Palmer, 
     Otis Palmer, or something. He's probably in one a them that 
     ain't got no stone.'' A white gang was searching for a black 
     they believed had killed a white man. ``And this boy was out 
     there some kinda way and got kilt. I imagine they mighta 
     thought he was the black man did it, you know? They just shot 
     'im . . . I know the day. I was a kid then myself.''
       At the nearby home of their friends, Mr. Boswell walks past 
     the little trailer where they live, past Black Boy, the frail 
     old dog sleeping at the steps, and out to the place where 
     Eugene Percival is sitting in a rusty metal chair on pale 
     dirt that is packed as hard as concrete. He, too, wears bib 
     overalls. He is 85 years old: ``I tell ya when I was born, 
     ought 9.'' For a moment, the old men talk to each other in a 
     dialect almost too foreign for a stranger.
       ``Rosa Parks, my dad's her uncle.'' Mr. Percival finally 
     says, bobbing his head, his right leg crossed at the knee 
     over his left, his posture that of a much younger man. ``Oh, 
     she was mean, mean as could be.'' He leans forward, laughs at 
     his own teasing, and says seriously. ``She was a good 
     woman. And still good, ain't she?''
       From the trailer, Mr. Percival's sister-in-law, Ina Mae 
     Gray, 92 years old, is making her way slowly and painfully 
     across the pale dirt. She's a large woman with a bandanna 
     wrapped around her head and another bandanna tied western-
     style around her neck. She, too, sits in a metal chair. 
     ``Arthritis,'' she says, pulling up her long dress to her 
     knees, running her hands gently down over her calves and then 
     stopping to massage the bridges of her feet. She glances up 
     askance at the white stranger and flashes a wary smile: 
     ``You're not gonna put me in jail, are ya? I don't wanta see 
     the jail, noooo!'' Mrs. Gray, too, remembers Rosa Parks. 
     ``She was a good child, go to the field and hoe and plow. 
     Pickin' cotton . . . And anything else you could raise to eat 
     . . . I know'd her mama. What's her mama's name?''
       ``Leona,'' says Mr. Boswell.
       ``I heared that 'bout the bus,'' says Mrs. Gray. ``She was 
     tryin' to get us a livin', I reckon.'' And suddenly, Mrs. 
     Gray is angry, her voice rising. ``Let us have som'in' like 
     them . . . Wooo, man, man! I had a hard time, hell, try to 
     eat and couldn't eat. Had to eat water and bread and all 
     kinda mess.'' Her face is contorted now and she is fighting 
     back tears, her voice trembling. ``They was over us, they 
     might beat our ass and go to cussin'.'' How is she supposed 
     to love white people? Mrs. Gray asks. ``Man, I could cry! 
     Right now! The way they done us. Let's call it. Us didn't 
     have nothin'.''
       ``Hard times!'' Mr. Percival says.
       Mrs. Gray gets wary again: ``Don't put me in jail, 
       From the trailer, Mrs. Boswell and Mr. Percival's wife, 
     Nettie Mae, who is 81, come out to join the conservation. 
     Mrs. Percival says she wasn't surprised when Rosa Parks got 
     arrested. On any given day, because of the way it was, any 
     black person could've snapped, met their limit and gone off, 
       ``They treated ya like slaves!'' says Mrs. Boswell.
       ``I coulda did it,'' Mrs. Percival says, her eyes wide and 
       Everyone nods in agreement.
       Mrs. Boswell: ``It's over with now.''
       Mr. Boswell: ``Time and God changed that.''
       Cloverdale is a beautiful Montgomery neighborhood of 
     landscaped yards, mature trees, flowering bushes, old, 
     elegant homes. Cloverdale, which is integrated today, speaks 
     to the incongruence that is the life of Virginia Durr, a 92-
     year-old white woman and daughter of Montgomery's gentry who, 
     with her husband, Clifford, was one of the few whites brave 
     or committed or foolish enough to support Rosa Parks and the 
     bus boycott. Her husband's law practice was nearly ruined, 
     two of her daughters had to be sent to school up North, her 
     yard was littered with obsence leaflets.
       Mrs. Durr, a widow for 20 years, has been helped into the 
     car from her small, white-clapboard retirement home. Her 
     wheelchair is packed in the trunk. She is waiting for her 
     friend and paid helper, Zecozy Williams, a 77-year-old black 
     woman, to close up the house and climb in the car. Rather 
     than talk in the house, Mrs. Durr prefers to go out for 
     dinner. She has a huddled, little-old-lady look about her as 
     she sits, her snowy hair swept up nicely, her hands smoothing 
     the lap of her flowered skirt. But as she explains her choice 
     of restaurant, her sing-song Southern voice carrying a 
     pleasant archness, she doesn't sound like a little old lady.
       ``It's just that at certain restaurants you're more welcome 
     than at others,'' she says, referring to Mrs. Williams. 
     ``Certain places are white places and certain places are 
     black places. And so when you find one that will welcome 
     both, you're lucky.'' Mrs. Durr has selected the Sahara. 
     ``They have black waiters . . . If they have black waiters, 
     she's more comfortable than if they have white waiters.''
       Has Mrs. Williams actually told her this?
       Mr. Durr smiles benevolently. ``No, honey, I know it.''

[[Page E 2137]]

       On the night Rosa Parks was arrested, Eddie Mae Pratt, now 
     79 and a friend of a friend of Mrs. Parks, happened to be on 
     the crowded bus. She was standing in the rear and couldn't 
     see the commotion up front. Word filtered back that a black 
     woman wouldn't give up her seat to a white. Mrs. Pratt, who 
     knew Mrs. Parks from evenings she spent sewing clothing with 
     Bertha T. Butler, Mrs. Pratt's neighbor, finally caught a 
     glimpse of Mrs. Parks as she was led off the bus. Suddenly, 
     she felt weak. She wrapped her arms around her chest and when 
     the bus lurched forward, she slipped hard enough that a black 
     man offered her his seat and she sat down.
       ``Do you feel all right?'' he asked.
       ``That's Mrs. Parks,'' she said, stunned.
       At her stop, Mrs. Pratt ran to the nearby house of Bertha 
     Bulter, who said, ``Oh, my goodness!'' She called the home of 
     E.D. Nixon, the founder and former president of the 
     Montgomery NAACP, where Mrs. Parks had been the volunteer 
     secretary for 12 years. Nixon called Clifford Durr, who knew 
     Mrs. Parks because, upon Nixon's recommendation, she had been 
     doing seamstress work for Mrs. Durr. When Nixon drove by to 
     pick up Clifford Durr, Mrs. Durr was with him and they went 
     and bailed out Mrs. Parks.
       Forty years later, at the Sahara, where Mrs. Durr is seated 
     in her wheelchair at the table and Mrs. Williams is helping 
     cut her entree, an old black waiter whispers to a young black 
     waiter: ``That's Mrs. Durr, who went and got Rosa Parks out 
     of jail.''
       Mrs. Durr smiles. ``My claim to fame.''
       That's not exactly true. Clifford Durr, who grew up in 
     Montgomery, was a Rhodes scholar with a degree from Oxford 
     University and a New Dealer whom Franklin Roosevelt had 
     appointed to the Federal Communications Commission. After 
     Clifford resigned to represent people charged as subversives 
     in the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, the Durrs returned 
     to their home town, where his family was the founder and 
     owner of the prosperous Durr drugstore chain. Although 
     politically conservative, the family supported Clifford and 
     Virginia financially and gave him legal business. Then 
     Virginia and Clifford were tarred as alleged communist 
     sympathizers by U.S. Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi, whom 
     an outraged Clifford publicly challenged to a fistfight. The 
     Durrs were ostracized in elite Montgomery society, especially 
     after it became known that Mrs. Durr was holding interracial 
     women's prayer gatherings in their home. She once called to 
     confirm a birthday party invitation sent to one of their 
       ``Are you Clifford Durr's wife?'' a man asked.
       ``Well, Mrs. Durr, no child of yours can enter this 
       Through a New Deal acquaintance, Clifford met E.D. Nixon, 
     who is perhaps the most unsung of Montgomery's civil rights 
     heroes. He was a Pullman porter and the local head of A. 
     Philip Randolph's powerful Brotherhood of Sleeping Car 
     Porters. Nixon was close to Randolph, who in the `40s was 
     already calling for massive grass-roots, demonstrations 
     against Southern Jim Crow laws. Nixon himself had opened the 
     local NAACP chapter in the 1920s. In Montgomery, Nixon was 
     ``Mr. Civil Rights.'' He was rough-edged and poorly spoken, 
     but he was an indefatigable man bravely willing to call 
     public attention to the constant abuse of black people.
       In those days, there was only one black lawyer in 
     Montgomery. So when Nixon learned that Clifford Durr would 
     take black clients, he sent them to him--no doubt also hoping 
     to create a powerful white friend and ally. When Clifford 
     mentioned that his wife needed a seamstress to alter the 
     clothing their daughters received as hand-me-downs from rich 
     relations--including Virginia's sister, the wife of former 
     U.S. senator and then-Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black--
     Nixon sent Mrs. Parks, who had become a woman in the mold of 
     the girl she had been.
       Rosa Parks was pretty, with supple, tan skin and brown hair 
     that ran to near her waist when it was down, but which in 
     public was always braided and rolled in the fashion of 
     Scarlett O'Hara in ``Gone With the Wind.'' She wore little 
     makeup. She had a lovely smile and a gentle laugh, although 
     folks can't remember her ever telling a joke or talking about 
     a favorite movie. They can't remember her ever dancing or 
     playing cards. She never gossiped, never seemed to get angry 
     or even exasperated. She had flawless diction and elegant 
     penmanship. Although she spoke little, she was gently 
     assertive when she did, with a touch of music in her voice. 
     He long silences weren't uncomfortable. She was a serene, 
     placid woman whose quietness was easily mistaken for 
       ``She was very much a lady,'' says Mrs. Durr, who has only 
     nibbled at her dinner. ``The thing that makes it so 
     interesting is that a lot of white women, they came down here 
     after the Civil War and started a school, and she had gone to 
     that school . . . staffed by white women, high-class women 
     who came down to the South to be missionaries to the 
     blacks.'' It was the Montgomery Industrial School for girls--
     dubbed Miss White's school after its headmistress, Alice L. 
     White. Rosa's mother had sent her to live with Montgomery 
     relatives so she could attend. Rosa cleaned classrooms to 
     help pay her way. It's believed that Miss White's school got 
     money from Sears, Roebuck & Co. chairman Julius Rosenwald, 
     who funded schools for blacks all across the South. ``She 
     came from good people and she had all the elements of a 
     lady,'' Mrs. Durr says of Mrs. Parks. ``Neatness and order--
     just a lovely person.''
       After dinner, Zecozy Williams packs Mrs. Durr's meal into a 
     doggie box. Back at home, before she sits down to talk about 
     Rosa Parks and the boycott, Mrs. Williams helps Mrs. Durr get 
     comfortably situated in her living room on the couch beneath 
     an oil painting of herself. While Mrs. Durr reads Wallis and 
     Edward, the story of the prince of Wales and Wallis Warfield 
     Simpson, Mrs. Williams goes to the dining room, sits in a 
     large rose-colored wing chair and mends one of Mrs. Durr's 
     bathrobes. She's getting Mrs. Durr ready for her summer trip 
     to Martha's Vineyard. ``This is what Rosa did,'' Mrs. 
     Williams says, laughing, her voice rich and deep and liquid. 
     ``I'm doin' the same thing.''
       Mrs. Williams didn't know Rosa Parks well. She, too, had 
     moved to Montgomery from a country town, Hope Hull, Ala., but 
     she was from a dirt-poor cropping family. As a teenager, she 
     kept house for a white doctor in the country--cooked three 
     meals a day, cleaned the house and did the laundry for $5 a 
     week. She also carried eggs, 15 to 20 dozen, into Montgomery 
     on horseback to sell. Then she started taking a bus into the 
     city to do domestic work for $3 a day. It was hard for her to 
     catch the bus on time, because her family didn't own a clock. 
     In 1950, she and her husband moved to Montgomery.
       One day, the woman doing her hair, Bertha Smith, asked if 
     Mrs. Williams was a registered voter. ``I didn't know what 
     that was. Really, I didn't.'' But soon she was attending 
     voting clinics run by Rufus Lewis, a former teacher and 
     football coach at what is today Alabama State University, 
     Montgomery's historically black college. As the NAACP was 
     E.D. Nixon's mission, voter registration was the mission of 
     Rufus Lewis. The men were rival leaders, Lewis said to 
     represent blacks teaching or educated at Alabama State and 
     Nixon said to represent working people like himself. The 
     saying was: Nixon had the ``masses'' and Lewis had the 
     ``classes.'' Through Nixon, Zecozy Williams met Rosa Parks, 
     who in 1943 had become the NAACP secretary in the footsteps 
     of Johnnie Carr, a friend and fellow classmate from Miss 
     White's school whose son would later become the test case 
     that desegregated Montgomery's public schools. Before long, 
     Mrs. Williams was helping Nixon and Lewis teach black folks 
     how to pass the dreaded Alabama literacy test.
       ``I never did get afraid,'' Mrs. Williams says, even when 
     she returned to Hope Hull and began registering blacks. Why? 
     She doesn't know. She just put fear out of her mind, flicked 
     a switch. After a while, she went to a white county 
     politician and told him a new road was needed running out to 
     the black schoolhouse.
       ``How many people you got registered?'' he asked.
       ``Well, we got quite a few.''
       ``Name some of 'em.''
       She did.
       Mrs. Williams stops sewing. ``And he made a road, ditched 
     it on both sides.''She is still incredulous. ``And that was 
     because of me. That was the first time I saw the power.''
       In the early '50s, Mrs. Williams occasionally served at 
     Mrs. Durr's parties. She was already the full-time domestic 
     for Mr. Durr's sister and her husband, Stanhope Elmore. She 
     liked the Elmores, but it was Mrs. Durr she admired. ``Mr. 
     Elmore and them would talk about her,'' she says. ``She was 
     an outcast. They never invited them over.'' But black people, 
     whether or not they knew her personally, understood that 
     Virginia Durr was putting her life and the lives of her 
     family on the line. Mrs. Williams nods toward the old woman 
     reading in the living room: ``Mrs. Durr is a brave woman.''
       The East side of old black Montgomery isn't what it used to 
     be. Alabama State still anchors the neighborhood, but many 
     affluent blacks have migrated to the suburbs, where they now 
     live among whites. Many doctors and lawyers, even public 
     school teachers with two modest incomes have abandoned 
     Montgomery's old black neighborhoods. But Rufus Lewis, 88 
     years old, a giant in the Montgomery civil rights 
     movement, a man barely known outside his circle of aged 
     contemporaries, still lives on the old black east side. He 
     looks remarkably like the young, imperious Rufus Lewis, 
     his head still kingly and dignified, with the bearing of 
     an old, unbowed lion. But his mind is cloudy. He can't 
     recall his past. He can't recall Rosa Parks.
       Back in the '40s, Lewis became obsessed with black voting 
     rights. Night after night, he traveled the countryside 
     teaching blacks how to register. In Montgomery, he founded 
     the Citizens Club, a private nightclub blacks could join only 
     if they were registered voters. An entire generation of 
     Montgomery blacks say Rufus Lewis is the reason they first 
     voted. Lewis was the first to ramrod the Montgomery bus 
     boycott's labyrinthine automobile transport system that 
     helped get black boycotters back and forth every day for 13 
     months. Lewis, with Nixon's concurrence, nominated Martin 
     Luther King Jr. to head the organization leading the boycott.
       ``Tell him as much as you remember, Daddy,'' says his 56-
     year-old daughter, Eleanor Dawkins. She sits in her father's 
     knotty pine study with his old friend, a former mailman and 
     present Montgomery City Council president, 73-year-old Joseph 
     Dickerson. ``I thought that with Joe here,'' his daughter 
     says, ``maybe there will be something that will come up.''
       ``Maybe,'' Mr. Lewis says tentatively.
       ``He believed,'' says Mr. Dickerson, who took part in five 
     major European operations 

[[Page E 2138]]
     in World War II, ``that if you go off to fight for your country, you 
     oughta be able to vote in your country.''
       Something stirs in Mr. Lewis. ``We got a lotta folks 
     registered,'' he says, smiling. They mimeographed the 
     literacy test, taught folks the answers, traveled by cover of 
     night through the backwoods Jim Crow landscape, sent light-
     skinned blacks to the Montgomery registrar's office to learn 
     if it was open that day, drove folks to the courthouse. When 
     people failed the test--as they usually did the first time or 
     two--Lewis and his workers did it all again, and then again. 
     He stops talking, leans across the desk where he is sitting, 
     fingers steepled, eyes blank, lost again.
       Does Mr. Lewis know that history records his achievements?
       ``Well, that's fine to be remembered in the books,'' he 
     says, suddenly firm and lucid, ``but the best part of it was 
     being there to help the people who needed help . . . That was 
     our job.''
       The night Rosa Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon and Clifford 
     Durr recognized instinctively that Mrs. Parks was the vessel 
     they'd been seeking to challenge the segregated bus laws. 
     Other blacks had been arrested for defying those laws. Only 
     months before, a 15-year-old girl, Claudette Colvin--inspired 
     by a high school teacher's lectures on the need for equal 
     rights, angered by the conviction of a black high school 
     student for allegedly raping a white woman--had refused to 
     give up her seat to a white, then resisted arrest when the 
     police came. She kept hollering, ``It's my constitutional 
     right!'' Nixon had decided against contesting her case: She 
     had fought with police, she came from the poorer side of 
     black Montgomery and, it was later learned, she was pregnant. 
     He had also rejected the cases of several other women 
     recently arrested, waiting for just the right vessel to 
       Then came Mrs. Parks. ``We got a lady can't nobody touch,'' 
     Nixon said. There were other advantages. Rosa Parks, because 
     of her well-mannered, serene demeanor, her proper speech, her 
     humble, saintly way, her ascetic lifestyle--she didn't drink, 
     smoke or curse--carried not only the image but the reality of 
     the deserving Negro. Mrs. Parks had the qualities middle-
     class whites claimed in themselves and denied in blacks. 
     Nothing about her supported the white contention that she 
     deserved to be treated as inferior.
       She had another advantage: Although whites may have viewed 
     blacks as a single entity, the social class fissures within 
     the black community--between educated and uneducated, 
     affluent and poor--ran deep. Mrs. Parks bridged that gap: She 
     was of ``working-class station and middle-class demeanor,'' 
     as Taylor Branch wrote in Parting the Waters. She came from a 
     good family, her relatives were prominent in Montgomery's St. 
     Paul AME Church, she was educated at Miss White's and later 
     Alabama State's lab school, and she had the manners--as 
     Virginia Durr said--of a ``lady.'' In her role as NAACP 
     secretary, she was respected by the city's educated activist 
     community. But she was also a seamstress who earned $23 a 
     week, whose fingers and feet were tired from honest work. She 
     was a PR bonanza--with a bonus.
       She was velvet hiding steel.
       That night, after hushed conversations, Nixon and Clifford 
     Durr asked if she would plead not guilty and fight her arrest 
     in court. Nixon said they could take the case to the Supreme 
     Court. Her husband, Raymond, a barber, was terrified, and 
     Mrs. Durr later recalled in her memoir, Outside the Magic 
     Circle, that he kept saying, ``Rosa, the white folks will 
     kill you! Rosa, the white folks will kill you!'' Like a 
     chant. Mrs. Parks was perfectly calm.
       ``I'll go along with you, Mr. Nixon.''
       Her decision wasn't as simple as it seems, wasn't made in 
     that one instant, but was a long time coming. In her 1992 
     autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, the source for many of 
     the details about her life and attitudes, Mrs. Parks writes 
     that as she sat on the bus, waiting for the police to arrive, 
     she was thinking about the night as a girl when she sat with 
     her grandfather, shotgun at the ready, while the KKK rode the 
     countryside. The humiliating segregation of Montgomery's 
     buses was much on her mind. Not only had Claudette Colvin's 
     arrest occurred last spring, but just a month earlier, a bus 
     driver had ordered Mrs. Parks's dear friend, Bertha Butler, 
     to move back to make room for a white man: ``You sit back 
     there with the niggers.'' Mrs. Butler was a woman raising two 
     children on her own, who also worked as a seamstress, who 
     sometimes sewed until 5 a.m. for extra income and who still 
     found time to run voter clinics in her home two nights a 
     week. She had befriended Mrs. Parks because she so admired 
     her civil rights work. Mrs. Butler didn't move at the order, 
     and the standing white man, in soldier's uniform, had 
     intervened: ``That's your seat and you sit there.'' Mrs. 
     Butler, now retired at age 76 and living near Philadelphia, 
     was glad she wasn't the one to get arrested. ``God looked at 
     me and said I wasn't strong enough,'' he says. ``Mrs. 
     Parks was the person.''
       At the time Mrs. Parks was arrested, she was in the process 
     of rejuvenating the NAACP's youth organization, getting ready 
     for a conference in a few days. Only the summer before, at 
     the behest of Virginia Durr, Mrs. Parks had spent 10 days at 
     the interracial Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a labor 
     organizing camp that had turned its radical eye on civil 
     rights. Mrs. Parks loved waking up in the morning at 
     Highlander, smelling the bacon and eggs cooking--and knowing 
     it was white people fixing breakfast for her. She returned 
     home, Mrs. Durr later said, inspired at realizing that whites 
     and blacks could live as equals and even more disgusted with 
     segregation. One of Highlander's most famous black teachers, 
     Septima Clark, said later, ``Rosa Parks was afraid for white 
     people to know that she was as militant as she was.''
       Mrs. Parks had been training her high school charges in the 
     ways of civil disobedience. Mrs. Butler's 58-year-old 
     daughter, Zynobia Tatum, remembers saying to Mrs. Parks, 
     ``They are going to hit me, spit on me and call me names, and 
     I can't fight back? I cannot promise you.'' Mrs. Parks told 
     Zynobia she needed more training. Already, Mrs. Parks had 
     sent her youth group members into the whites-only public 
     library to order books. Zynobia Tatum recalls that she and 
     Mrs. Parks had often taken drinks from whites-only water 
     fountains downtown--``to show our disapproval.'' After 
     Claudette Colvin's arrest for refusing to give up her seat, 
     Claudette joined Mrs. Parks' group--and Mrs. Parks discovered 
     she was the great-granddaughter of the dark-skinned black man 
     in Pine Level who had refused to work for whites, the man 
     young Rosa had secretly admired. It was almost prophetic.
       Despite her genuine gentleness and pragmatic faith in the 
     tactic of civil disobedience, Rosa Parks was never entirely 
     comfortable with the philosophy of nonviolence and the idea 
     that if black people were attacked, they shouldn't fight 
     back. In an obscure 1967 interview on file at Howard 
     University she said bluntly, ``I don't believe in gradualism 
     or that whatever is to be done for the better should take 
     forever to do.''
       For more than a decade as NAACP secretary, she had watched 
     case after case of injustice against blacks come through the 
     NAACP office, almost all of which she was powerless to 
     change. She'd worked with a group trying to save the life of 
     the young Montgomery man convicted of raping a white woman--
     the case that had so outraged Claudette Colvin--only to see 
     him executed. She knew the widow and three small children of 
     a black man who, in his U.S. military uniform, was shot dead 
     by police after he supposedly caused a scene on a Montgomery 
     bus. She had told local NAACP board member Frank Bray, now 
     75, that someone needed to do something to break the fist of 
     segregation, even if it meant a sacrifice.
       ``I had no idea,'' he says, ``that she would be the 
     sacrificial lamb . . . She'd say. These folks have all these 
     beautiful churches and they profess to be Christians and yet 
     they have businesses where the clerks are not courteous and 
     where you cannot use a restroom and if you drink water you 
     have to drink out of the little spigot that was added to 
     the main fountain' . . . Most blacks resented the 
     conditions and many of them adjusted to it and many did 
     not adjust. She did not adjust.'' After her arrest, Mrs. 
     Parks revealed to fellow boycott worker Hazel Gregory, now 
     75, that she had thought about refusing to give up her 
     seat in the past.
       Montgomery whites claimed that her arrest was part of a 
     plot, that Nixon had put his longtime secretary up to it. No 
     evidence supports that claim. On the night of her arrest, 
     Nixon was shocked and confused, flailing about in his effort 
     to get her released. It is embedded in the American psyche 
     that Rosa Parks acted on the spur of the moment, and her 
     arrest is often called the ``spark'' that ignited the modern 
     civil rights movement. In fact, Rosa Park's act and the 
     firestorm that followed were more like spontaneous 
     combustion--a fire ignited by the buildup of heat over time 
     in material ripe for explosion. Mrs. Parks, who wasn't afraid 
     as she waited for her arrest, who felt oddly serene, revealed 
     the lifetime thread of experiences that had led to her action 
     when the police arrived and asked once more if she would 
     move. In the way of the Bible, she answered with a question:
       ``Why do you all push us around?''
       No moral philosopher, the cop said, ``I don't know.''
       Then she was led away.
       Years later, Edward Warren Boswell, now 41, the son of a 
     cousin Mrs. Parks grew up with in Pine Level, asked her why 
     she refused to move that particular day. ``She said she had 
     no idea,'' he recalls. His 44-year-old sister, Betty Boswell, 
     says, ``She said she was just tired from working, and they 
     had always been harassing black people about not sitting to 
     the front and she said that particular day she just wasn't in 
     the mood . . . Her feet were hurting.'' Mrs. Parks told 
     Edward: ``It was just set in motion by God.''
       Back in the study of Rufus Lewis, City Council President 
     Joe Dickerson agrees. But he, like Mrs. Parks and almost 
     everybody else who was involved in the boycott, was of the 
     praise-the-Lord-and-pass-the-ammunition school of religion. 
     Every inch of progress was a battle. White politicians tried 
     to break the boycott in court, and the boycott leaders fought 
     back in court. The white thugs bombed four churches and the 
     homes of King, Nixon and Ralph Abernathy, a young minister in 
     Montgomery at the time. As Zecozy William said, people risked 
     their lives.
       Theirs was an eerie determination. King later wrote that he 
     was increasingly afraid until late one night when he felt the 
     presence and the resoluteness of God descend upon him. Mrs. 
     Williams said she flicked a mental switch to turn off her 
     fear. Mrs. Parks described her serenity as she waited to be 
     arrested. And now, Mr. Dickerson compares his state of mind 
     during the dangerous 

[[Page E 2139]]
     days of the boycott to the way he felt the night before a military 
     operation in World War II: ``Gotta go.''
       Mr. Dickerson: ``It's a miracle.''
       Mr. Lewis: ``I just feel grateful that we came through.''
       The room is like Inez Baskin's private museum. The large 
     portrait of her grandfather stands on an easel. In his bow 
     tie and vest, with his mustache and slicked-back hair, he 
     looks every bit an Irishman. The photo of her mother and 
     father, so fair-skinned, sits on the piano encased in plastic 
     wrap for protection. ``My husband's father was white, too,'' 
     she says. And of course, on the wall, is the famous photo of 
     Mrs. Baskin, now 79 years old, on the day that bus 
     segregation ended in Montgomery: Mrs. Baskin, Abernathy, King 
     and two others riding a bus. The photo ran worldwide and Inez 
     Baskin, a reporter for the ``colored page'' of the Montgomery 
     Advertiser and a correspondent for Jet magazine and the 
     Pittsburgh Courier, was mistaken by many for Rosa Parks, 
     still is today.
       ``In the '50s, I didn't have any sense,'' she says, sitting 
     in a large, comfortable chair amid her memorabilia. She 
     softly rubs her face, plays with the ring on her left hand. 
     Her long gray hair sweeps over from the right, dangling in a 
     single braid to her left. She speaks softly and deliberately. 
     ``I thought I could walk on water in those days.'' With a 
     black photographer, she once raced out to Prattville, Ala., 
     after a report that the Klan was burning a cross. The crowd 
     was gone, but the cross was still burning. She laughs and 
     shakes her head at the memory. A photo ran in Jet.
       Did she know Rosa Parks?
       She smiles faintly. ``An angel walking.''
       ``I wonder sometimes what it would have taken just to make 
     her act like the rest of us . . . She would smile, very 
     demure, and never raise her voice. She was just different in 
     a very angelic way . . . `If you can walk with kings and not 
     lose the common touch.' Those are the kind of expressions 
     that come to mind when you think about Rosa Parks. My great-
     grandmother had an expression for it: `living on earth and 
     boarding in Glory.' ''
       Mrs. Baskin believes Mrs. Parks was heaven-sent?
       ``She had to be.''
       On the night Rosa Parks was arrested, after she had agreed 
     to become bus segregation's test case, 24-year-old Fred Gray, 
     one of Montgomery's two black attorneys then, arrived home 
     late from out of town and got the word. Gray has grown up in 
     Montgomery, attended Alabama State and gone to Ohio for law 
     school because Alabama didn't have a law school for blacks. 
     When the state required five attorneys to sign character 
     affidavits before he could practice, Gray had gone to E.D. 
     Nixon, who helped him find the lawyers. One of them was 
     Clifford Durr. Gray had returned home with one goal--to 
     ``destroy everything segregated.'' Mrs. Parks immediately 
     offered her services. Every day, she came to his downtown 
     office at lunch, answered his mail for free, encouraged his 
     idealism. They talked not only about the buses, but inferior 
     black schools, segregated parks, swimming pools and toilets. 
     In his memoir, Bus Ride to Justice, Gray, now 64, later 
     wrote, ``She gave me the feeling that I was the Moses that 
     God had sent to Pharaoh.''
       Fred Gray upped the ante. Late on the night Mrs. Parks was 
     arrested, he visited Jo Ann Robinson, an Alabama State 
     professor and president of the Women's Political Council, a 
     group composed of female university professors, public school 
     teachers, nurses, social workers and the wives of 
     Montgomery's black professional men. For months, Robinson had 
     been laying plans for a bus boycott. Although she and most 
     of Montgomery's affluent blacks owned cars and didn't ride 
     the buses often, she had taken a bus to the airport in 
     1949 and mistakenly sat in a white seat. The driver went 
     wild, screamed, threatened. ``I felt like a dog,'' she 
     later said.
       Every black person who rode a bus had a tale to tell: the 
     man who paid his last coin in fare only to have the bus drive 
     off before he could return and enter through the back door, 
     the woman who was attacked when she stepped onto a bus to pay 
     ahead of a white man, the pregnant woman who fell when a bus 
     pulled away as she stepped off. In 1953 alone, the Women's 
     Council had received 30 complaints from black bus riders.
       It was a unifying indignity.
       Inspired by the Supreme Court ruling that had banned 
     ``separate but equal'' schools in 1954, Robinson had even 
     written the mayor and warned that if black riders weren't 
     treated more courteously ``twenty-five or more local 
     organizations'' were planning a bus boycott. It was a hopeful 
     time. Already, a boycott in Baton Rouge, La., organized by 
     the Rev. T.J. Jemison, had won concessions for black riders 
     in that city. And in Little Rock, Ark., officials had devised 
     a plan to integrate its schools. But nothing had come of 
     Robinson's demands. Then Fred Gray dropped by.
       At midnight, Robinson went to Alabama State and furtively 
     used its government-owned paper and mimeograph machines to 
     run off 52,500 leaflets announcing a boycott of Montgomery's 
     buses on the day of Mrs. Parks's trial. The next morning, 
     Robinson and her Women's Council cohorts and students 
     distributed the leaflets to black schools, stores, taverns, 
     beauty parlors and barber shops. When Alabama State's black 
     president, H. Councill Trenholm, who served at the pleasure 
     of the Alabama governor, learned of her action, he called her 
     into his office and demanded an explanation. She told him 
     another black woman had been humiliated on a bus; she 
     promised to pay for the mimeograph paper. He calmed down, 
     warned her to work behind the scenes. Trenholm's wife, too, 
     was a Women's Council member.
       The rest is history. Rosa Parks was found guilty and fined 
     $10, plus $4 in court costs. To keep the followers of Rufus 
     Lewis and E.D. Nixon from squabbling, King became the 
     compromise choice to lead the boycott. When black preachers 
     cozy with Montgomery's powerful whites balked at the idea, 
     Nixon, in his rugged way, questioned their manhood: ``You 
     ministers have lived off these wash-women for the last 
     hundred years and ain't never done nothing for them.'' After 
     Nixon's taunt, King himself said, ``Brother Nixon, I'm not a 
     coward.'' Nixon planted the story of the boycott with a 
     friendly white reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. It 
     became front-page news and announced the boycott to every 
     black in Montgomery.
       There were bombings, threats, lawsuits, harassing phone 
     calls. Victory was not preordained; it came a day at a time. 
     The city's stubborn refusal to compromise on bus seating--
     other segregated Southern cities didn't have specific seats 
     reserved only for whites--probably hardened the resolve of 
     the boycotters. The bombings certainly turned national public 
     opinion against the segregationists. In 1956, young Fred Gray 
     successfully took his argument against Montgomery's bus 
     segregation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although many people 
     believe it was Rosa Parks's case that went before the high 
     court, Gray actually didn't use her as a plaintiff because of 
     technicalities in her case that might have undermined his 
     federal lawsuit. Instead, five women whose names are 
     mostly lost to history filed suit; Aurelia Browder, 
     Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, Jeanetta Reese and Mary 
     Louise Smith.
       Victory had a price; Jo Ann Robinson and about a dozen 
     other activist ASU employees lost their jobs. Monroe J. 
     Gardner, whose granddaughter is now a federal magistrate in 
     Montgomery, used his car to transport people during the 
     boycott. He was beaten. Samuel Patton Sr., a boycott 
     supporter and prominent builder, lost his line of bank 
     credit. E.L. and Dorothy Posey, who ran the only black-owned 
     parking lot in downtown Montgomery, let their lot be used as 
     a transit staging point. After the boycott, they lost their 
     business. Anne Smith Pratt volunteered dispatching cars to 
     pick up waiting riders. Her marriage ended when her husband 
     was sent overseas and she refused to leave her post. Not to 
     mention the hardships endured by thousands of working class 
     blacks who walked miles to work every day in the heat, the 
     cold, the rain. Says sociologist Aldon Morris, ``People made 
     this happen.''
       During the boycott, Rosa Parks helped run the auto dispatch 
     system. She wasn't a leader of the movement, and didn't try 
     to be. She traveled the country raising money. Already, she 
     was a symbol. When she, King and nearly 100 others were 
     charged with conspiracy during the boycott, a photo of her 
     being fingerprinted ran on the front page of the New York 
     Times--perhaps because King was out of town and not available 
     to be photographed. That picture, mistakenly believed by many 
     to have been taken the night she was first arrested, became a 
     piece of movement iconography.
       As the historic significance of the boycott became clearer, 
     as journalists poured in from all over the world, bickering 
     began over the credit. Nixon became jealous of not only King 
     but Rosa Parks. ``If it hadn't been for me . . .'' he told 
     Mrs. Park's friend Hazel Gregory. In one of the final 
     recorded interviews of his life in 1988, Nixon told local 
     amateur historian Riley Lewis Jr., ``We had court cases that 
     had been filed 10 years `fore Mrs. Parks was arrested . . . 
     King didn't make the Montgomery bus boycott--me, the peoples 
     and our protest made him!''
       He was right. He was wrong.
       Everybody made everybody.
       Inez Baskin still marvels about those days. ``It was as if 
     I was out of myself doing these things.'' she says, sitting 
     forward in her chair, holding her arms before her and gently 
     swaying, eyes closed. ``Not myself, but more myself than 
     ever. It didn't seem as if it was me doing it . . . It was as 
     if we were out of ourselves, watching ourselves . . . Not in 
     our bodies.
       ``Does that make any sense?''
       IT IS THE HANDS of Rosa Parks that you notice. They are 
     always folded somehow, plaited together so naturally, the 
     left hand lying open on her lap, the right hand's palm lying 
     open over it, her thumb softly massaging her wrist. Or the 
     fingers gently intertwined, her thumbs methodically 
     crossing and recrossing. Or the left palm held open and 
     facing up, the right palm grazing lightly back and forth 
     over its surface. Hands always at rest, always at work.
       Rosa Parks is visiting Montgomery today, traveling with a 
     bus tour of youngsters retracing the path of the underground 
     railroad from the South to Canada, stopping at important 
     civil rights sites along the way. The Rosa and Raymond Parks 
     Institute for Self-Development sponsors the tour, which is 
     filled mostly with youths from the Washington and Detroit 
     areas. Mrs. Parks has returned to Montgomery only 
     occasionally since 1957 when she, her husband and her mother 
     moved to Detroit, where her brother lived. She and her 
     husband had lost their jobs and the phone jangled constantly 
     with vicious threats: ``You should be killed.'' Her 

[[Page E 2140]]
     brother was afraid for them and insisted they move to Detroit, where 
     Mrs. Parks eventually worked for Democratic Rep. John Conyers 
     Jr. as a receptionist and caseworker. She retired in 1988. 
     Her husband, mother and brother are all dead. She is 82.
       In cities where she was once despised, she is now treated 
     like royalty--or more. Yesterday in Birmingham, siren-blaring 
     motorcycle cops stopped traffic for her and the mayor 
     proclaimed it ``Rosa Parks Day.'' At the Birmingham Civil 
     Rights Institute, Mrs. Parks stood quietly looking at a life-
     sized sculpture of herself sitting on the bus, purse in her 
     lap, staring out the window, waiting to be arrested. Watching 
     her watch herself was an army of TV crews and cameras. In 
     Selma, a woman reached out, took hold of her challis dress 
     and said, ``I want to touch the hem of your garment.'' 
     Unchanged in manner since 1955, Mrs. Parks said, ``That's 
     very nice.'' Today in Montgomery, she is given the key to the 
     city and a speaker introduces her by saying, ``Why don't we 
     just get on our feet and greet our mother, Rosa Parks!''
       The mother of the civil rights movement.
       ``A saint of American history,'' a TV reporter calls her.
       ``I don't consider myself a saint,'' says Mrs. Parks, who 
     still wears her hair braided and rolled behind her head, 
     still speaks so softly her voice is nearly inaudible, still 
     is velvet hiding steel. ``I'm just a person who wanted to be 
     seated on the bus.''
       But again and again, Rosa Parks tells audiences she didn't 
     remain in her seat because she was physically weary. No, she 
     was weary of the injustice. Again and again, she mentions 
     that she was working at the NAACP before her arrest. No, she 
     didn't plan her arrest, but her whole life from childhood was 
     leading up to it. Without being asked, she is responding to 
     the mythic tale that, ironically, holds her up to worship and 
     diminishes her: the simple seamstress, the meek Negro woman, 
     exhausted from a day's work, who without forethought chose to 
     sit her ground.
       Rosa Parks doesn't really answer questions put to her 
     later, questions about why she is often seen as a simple 
     seamstress rather than as an assertive activist, questions 
     about whether her sainthood status diminishes her status as a 
     strong, committed woman. ``I was always glad that the people 
     did have the determination to make the sacrifices and take 
     that action,'' she says in her soft, slow voice. ``I just 
     felt that as a person I didn't want to be treated like a 
     second-class citizen. I didn't want to mistreated under the 
     guise of legally enforced racial segregation and that the 
     more we endured that kind of treatment, the worse we were 
     being treated . . . I consider myself a symbol of freedom 
     and equality, and I wanted to let it be known that that 
     was what I believed in.''
       It is as simple--and complex--as that.
       ``She remains a pure symbol,'' says University of Georgia 
     sociologist Gary Fine, an expert in political symbolism. 
     ``For everyone today and in the '50s, it was a text story 
     with only one possible reading--this poor woman who refused 
     to move to the back of the bus. What possible explanation 
     could you possibly have for making her move? It was so 
     transparently egregious.'' But for a symbol to have 40 years 
     of staying power, Fine says, it must carry a deeper cultural 
     resonance about ``our own self-image.''
       ``By protecting this image we are celebrating core values 
     for ourselves as Americans,'' he says. ``There is a universal 
     consensus now that integration is good. She symbolizes this 
     now. Everybody on all sides can use her.'' For blacks, she is 
     evidence that they forced change. For whites, she is evidence 
     that they were willing to change.
       Rosa Parks as proof: America is good.
       ``The beauty was that she disappeared from the scene,'' 
     says Fine, meaning that her later behavior or opinions didn't 
     muddy the purity of her symbolism, as happened with King 
     after allegations of plagiarism and marital infidelity. ``She 
     did her duty as a symbol and then disappeared except for 
     ceremonial events.''
       Back in Montgomery, Mrs. Parks is standing amid the 
     adoration, her hands plaited naturally on the lectern, giving 
     a short tale: She's glad for all the change but more change 
     is needed, the struggle for justice must go on, the greatest 
     power is God. Then, so softly that people must strain to 
     hear, she recites a hymn her mother sang to her as a child in 
     Pine Level:
           ``O freedom,
           O freedom,
           O freedom over me.
           And before I'd be a slave,
           I'd be buried in my grave,
           And go home to my Lord and be free.''
       ``I'd like for everybody to remember me as a person who 
     wanted to be free.''
       It is night and Joe Dickerson, the city council president, 
     is standing before bus No. 5726, lit by the headlights of his 
     car. Mr. Dickerson helped get the bus hauled here in hopes 
     that the committee set up to honor the 40th anniversary of 
     the boycott can eventually collect enough private donations 
     to restore it. The Montgomery City Council, with four blacks 
     and five whites, isn't yet ready to foot the whole bill or to 
     finance the civil rights museum Mr. Dickerson would like to 
     see built inside the old Empire Theater, outside of which 
     Rosa Parks was arrested.
       But someday . . .
       ``If you rode the bus, you were mistreated,'' Mr. Dickerson 
     says, the light making him look washed and vague and 
     mysterious in his little hat with the brim rolled up all the 
     way around. And so the time was right. It could have been 
     anybody . . . I guess when the time is right, it's just like 
     Nelson Mandela. If anybody had told Mandela, `You're gonna be 
     free and you're gonna rule South Africa, man,' you talked 
     like a fool. `I'm not gonna get outta jail!' So there is a 
     time for everything. And you have to play your role.''
       Rosa Parks's grandfather who refused to shuffle for whites 
     played his role. So did the dark-skinned man in Pine Level 
     who wouldn't work for whites. Rosa's mother, who sacrificed 
     so Rosa could go to Miss White's school. Miss White. Julius 
     Rosenwald. A. Philip Randolph. The NAACP lawyers who laid 
     decades of groundwork for the 1954 Supreme Court schools 
     decision. The Rev. T.J. Jemison, who organized the earlier 
     Baton Rouge bus boycott. Those who took the literacy test 
     again and again. Raymond Parks. H. Councill Trenholm, Ralph 
     Abernathy, Eddie Mae Pratt, Anne Smith Pratt, E.L. and 
     Dorothy Posey, Zecozy Williams, Bertha Smith, Monroe J. 
     Gardner, Samuel Patton Sr., Johnnie Carr, Bertha T. Butler, 
     Zynobia Tatum, Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie 
     McDonald, Jeanetta Reese, Mary Louise Smith. And, of course, 
     E.D. Nixon, Rufus Lewis, Jo Ann Robinson, Fred Gray, Clifford 
     and Virginia Durr and Martin Luther King Jr., who transformed 
     a demand for seats into a mission for God. And the 40,000 who 
     refused to ride.
       Strands in a thread.
       Rosa Parks, too, played her role.
       She still does.
       ``The message is ordinary people doing extraordinary 
     things,'' says sociologist Aldon Morris, who fears that the 
     simplified mythology that enshrouds Rosa Parks and the 
     Montgomery bus boycott, the belief that it was all God-
     ordained, can obscure the determination, fearlessness and 
     skilled organization of the people who made the movement. 
     ``To believe that King or Rosa Parks are heroes, it creates 
     passivity . . . Young people then ask, ``Where's the new 
     Martin Luther King?' . . . People don't understand that power 
     exists within the collectivity.''
       ``The peoples,'' as E.D. Nixon said.
       Back at the bus, bathed in the vague and mysterious light, 
     Joe Dickerson says, ``Things are changing.''
       Someday they'll have that museum.
       ``When the time is right.''
       And bus No. 5726 will be waiting.