Tribute to Rosa Parks recalls a rebellious life before, after civil rights

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 1, 2013 

About 30 residents paid tribute Saturday to the woman some refer to as the mother of the civil rights movement.

A celebration commemorating Rosa Parks' 100th birthday at Bethel Community Church featured speeches, songs and a short film about the museum-library that bears Parks' name in Montgomery, Ala.

"I'm grateful to all who came out to celebrate a great woman," said the Rev. Bruce Rivers, who organized the event.

In 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man after being ordered to do so by a bus driver. Her eventual arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted for more than a year.

Parks died in 2005, and was the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Councilwoman Deborah Lewis, who attended the event along with Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove and Mayor Mike Villalta, said she experienced the unfair treatment Parks fought against while visiting Louisiana as a child.

"I remember my mother and I would go back home and visit family and we had to ride in the back of the bus. We didn't have to do that in San Diego," Lewis said. "So, as a child, when I entered the bus the first place I sat was the front row. My mother dragged me by the hand and drug me to the back. I said, 'Mom, why are we going to the back of the bus?' She had to silence me very quickly."

Stonegrove, who is a history teacher, said she uses Rosa Parks' story as a way to teach students they can make a difference.

"An act that may have seemed like a small act of civil disobedience changed the course of history," Stonegrove said.

Villalta declared Saturday Rosa Parks Day in Los Banos. He said what he appreciated most about Rosa Parks was that she engaged in nonviolent protests.

The event also included a report by 12-year-old Michael Farias on Parks' achievements during her life, gospel songs and praise dancing.

Vondell McKenzie, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said people often forget Parks was involved in the NAACP and the struggle for civil rights years before she refused to give her seat up on the bus. In the 1980s, Parks helped with the campaign to get a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Because the celebration was in honor of Parks' 100th birthday, attendees sang a chorus of "Happy Birthday" and ate cake.

Pascual Mendivil, who came up with the idea for the Rosa Parks celebration, said he believes the battle for civil rights must continue.

"I believe that the definition of the back of the bus has changed," Mendivil said.

"We look at the great inequality in our country, disproportionate poverty, disproportionate education opportunities, we look at the prisons and they're full of people of color. That's the back of the bus now."

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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