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Rosa Parks' legacy endures decades later

By the CNN Wire Staff
Little did Rosa Parks know that her act of civil disobedience 55 years ago would help end segregation laws in the South.
Little did Rosa Parks know that her act of civil disobedience 55 years ago would help end segregation laws in the South.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996
  • She became a symbol of the civil rights movement
  • Parks died in Detroit, Michigan, in 2005

(CNN) -- An act of civil disobedience 55 years ago -- Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of a city bus -- made the seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, a pivotal symbol in America's civil rights movement.

Wednesday marks the 55th anniversary of the civil disobedience on December 1, 1955.

Parks did not intend to get arrested as she made her way home from work that day. Little did the 42-year-old seamstress know that her acts would help end segregation laws in the South.

That evening after work, Parks took a seat in the front of the black section of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus filled up, and the bus driver demanded that she move so a white male passenger could have her seat.

But Parks refused to give up her seat, and police arrested her. Four days later, Parks was convicted of disorderly conduct.

2005: Rosa Parks remembered
2005: Rosa Parks' legacy lives on
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The events triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks that was organized by a 26-year-old Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The boycott led to a court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery, but it wasn't until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations nationwide were desegregated.

Parks, who died five years ago in Detroit, Michigan, at 92, still has the power to inspire.

"I think that she, as the mother of the new civil rights movement, has left an impact not just on the nation, but on the world," U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said shortly after her death. "She was a real apostle of the nonviolence movement."

He remembered her as someone who never raised her voice -- an eloquent voice of the civil rights movement.

"You treated her with deference because she was so quiet, so serene -- just a very special person," he said, adding that "there was only one" Rosa Parks.

Facing regular threats and having lost her department store job because of her activism, Parks left Alabama for Detroit in 1957, where she later joined Conyers' staff.

Parks later co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development to help young people pursue educational opportunities, get them registered to vote and work toward racial peace.

"As long as there is unemployment, war, crime and all things that go to the infliction of man's inhumanity to man, regardless -- there is much to be done, and people need to work together," she once said.

Parks remained active on the lecture circuit into her 80s, speaking at civil rights groups and accepting awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

"This medal is encouragement for all of us to continue until all have rights," she said at the June 1999 ceremony for the latter medal.