Rosa Parks remembered by students, faculty

Bryan Wroten

Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks waves after being honored in the U.S. Capitol with the Congressional Gold Medal in June 1999. Parks died of natural causes at her home in Detroit on Monday.

Credit: Steve Schirra

The death of Rosa Parks led many black students at Kent State to reflect on the life and accomplishments of the civil rights leader.

Parks, 92, died Monday night in her home of natural causes. She is best known for helping start the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 in Alabama by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus.

“If she hadn’t stood up to the people back then,” said Matthew Cox, Black United Students president, “things would be very different now.”

Cox said Parks was a source of motivation for students to stand up for themselves. Being a working black woman made her an even more powerful figure, he said.

“To me, she’s a soldier,” he said. “She may not have fought physically, but a lot of things, our privileges, we take for granted. We can thank her, thank the movement for them.”

Sasha Parker, BUS political affairs and grievances officer, called her dad after hearing about Parks. She said they talked about her importance and why society must remember her.

“Hopefully she doesn’t get swept under the rug,” Parker said. “It’s a real possibility. Luther Vandross, Stokely Carmichael – a lot you don’t hear about even though they were so influential to history. That’s how they are swept away.”

Parks’ name cannot be forgotten if those concerned don’t let it, said Mwatabu Okantah, assistant professor of Pan-African Studies. Okantah said it’s their job to make sure she is remembered, an effort that starts with teaching their families.

“Rosa Parks’ name will never, ever go away,” Okantah said. “She’s an inspiration to the world. That’s serious power. She’s with the ancestors now – there for us to call her, to guide and protect us.”

He’s not concerned with having “enough” people know about Rosa Parks.

“People all over the world know about her, in the millions. That’s good enough for me,” he said.

Without her, there would have been no Martin Luther King Jr., no Montgomery Bus Boycott and no end to segregation, said Nathan Williams, BUS community affairs officer.

“She did not stay in that seat because she was tired from long days of work, or her feet were tired like in the myths,” he said. “That was planned. She got up that morning knowing she was going to jail.”

Okantah said Parks was chosen for her role in the boycott because of her involvement in starting the NAACP in Montgomery during the 1940s. When beginning the boycott, Okantah said members of the bus boycott had no idea of the consequences of their actions.

“I don’t think they ever thought for one minute it would have the impact it did,” Okantah said. “Having said that, she lived to be 92 years old. She got to see the impact of her actions.”

This does not mean she let her notoriety go to her head, Okantah said, because “she’ll be the first to tell you she was working with people – not by herself.”

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].