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Alabama civil rights pioneers die in Octobercomment (0)

November 3, 2005


Two pioneers in the civil rights movement died recently.

Rosa Parks and Vivian Malone Jones, both from Alabama, made marks on the state and nation with their famous “stands.”

Parks, who died Oct. 24 at the age of 92, was known for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in 1955.

Malone, who died Oct. 13 at 63, defied Gov. George Wallace’s infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama (UA) in 1963 and became the school’s first black graduate.

Parks, a laywoman who, at the forefront of the civil rights movement, found strength in passages of Scripture, died just a few weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of her arrest for the bus incident.

Her stand resulted in a 381-day bus boycott by black people and helped boost the rise to national prominence of a local pastor: Martin Luther King Jr., then of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Robert Anderson, immediate past president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, said of Parks’ 1955 arrest, “It was the bus ride that ended up changing history. ... From that small act of defiance came a big act of deliverance, which would lead to the Supreme Court case in which they ruled segregation in public transportation to be illegal and unconstitutional.”

Parks’ stance “not only helped blacks throughout the country but also helped everybody,” Anderson said. “If one person is not receiving justice and is not treated fairly, and it’s supported by the law, then that destroys all levels of justice.”

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a member of First Baptist Church, Ashland, said the state “joins the nation in mourning as we mark the passing of a remarkable life.”           

“Rosa Parks will always be remembered as a courageous woman who quietly confronted injustice, and in so doing, she changed a nation,” Riley said.

One of Parks’ favorite Bible passages was the 23rd Psalm.

“During the time of our boycott, we did much praying and we had mass meetings at the various churches, where people would come in and testify and relate their experiences,” she said in the mid- 1990s. “It was very helpful that we had the churches and could gather strength from one another and encourage each other to continue the struggle throughout that long year of boycotting the buses.

“I look back on those days and remember the Spirit within us and our faith and hope that things would be better, and I still have that faith,” Parks said. “When we face any obstacle, any discouragement, that faith is a strong attribute to have.”

Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, who has been involved in an interracial pastors’ group for seven years, said Parks was “motivated by her faith in Jesus Christ. She destroyed barriers and built bridges of reconciliation. Her Christian model is worthy of our emulation.”

‘Towering figure’

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, described Parks as “a towering figure during the civil rights period of American history.”

“She represents the sacrifice of seemingly ordinary people who did extraordinary deeds in the name of justice and liberty,” Lance said. “Her simple act of courage became the spark which lit the fire of the civil rights movement. ... She never sought fame or recognition; nonetheless her name is synonymous with all which is good in the quest for freedom and individual rights.”

Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper, said, “In the providence of God, He used an unassuming woman named Rosa Parks as the catalyst to force Alabamians and all the people of the South to face the negative side of our culture.

“It was her courage that caused the whole nation to re-examine and renew its commitment to the belief that all people are created equal,” Terry said. “Her faith in God and the message of churches in the black community reminded us that God created all people in His image. ... Her experience changed culture and society in Alabama. We are better because of her.”

Parks was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. The bus in which Parks took her stance has been restored and is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

Jones, who grew up in Mobile, faced a harsh environment as she worked on her degree at UA.

In an Associated Press report in which she was quoted in 2004, Jones credited her religious beliefs for giving her the confidence to stay with it and graduate in 1965.

“God was with me,” she said.


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