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Parks remembered for her courage, humility

Civil rights pioneer dead at 92

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Rosa Parks' arrest in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement.

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(CNN) -- Rosa Parks was remembered Tuesday as the mother of the civil rights movement, a powerful but quiet voice for equality and as a humble woman who did not seek the limelight.

Parks died Monday night in Detroit, Michigan. She was 92.

President Bush opened a speech to a group of military spouses Tuesday by praising Parks as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century." (Watch Bush's comments -- 1:27)

"Rosa Parks' example helped touch off the civil rights movement, and transformed America for the better," Bush said. "She will always have a special place in American history, and our nation thinks of Rosa Parks and her loved ones today."

Parks is best remembered for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955. (See video on an activist's life and times -- 2:52)

That act led to her arrest, which 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. (Read an account of Park's history-making decision)

The boycott ended after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Montgomery's segregated bus service was unconstitutional. But it wasn't until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations nationwide were desegregated.

"It was so unbelievable that this woman -- this one woman -- had the courage to take a seat and refuse to get up and give it up to a white gentleman," said Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, who watched the drama unfold as a teenager.

"By sitting down, she was standing up for all Americans."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an audience in Canada that Parks "inspired a whole generation of people to fight for freedom."

"And Mrs. Parks, who was 92 years old and lived a life that was long and inspirational well beyond that single act -- I think for all of us, her inspiration will live on."

Parks 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.

Parks would sometimes travel with the students on trips to key sites in the civil rights movement.

"I recall leaning over to some of the other students and saying 'Wow, we're sitting on a bus with Rosa Parks, and she's sitting in the front,' " said Nate Philips, who met Parks on one of those trips.

"I think that what was so compelling about her to me was that, considering who she could have had access to and who she could have wanted to spend her time with, she really enjoyed having young people around."

He said it was hard to explain how important that was, but said "it means a lot."

Lila Cabbil, a longtime friend and president of the institute, described Parks as passionate, loyal and dedicated, but said "What has stuck with me most outstandingly was her humility.

"She never required a celebrity, never sought celebrity status, and managed to operate in that humble way," Cabbil said. "And that is so rare and so unique and it's something that I've aspired to and it takes a lot of discipline to emulate that particular part of her character."

Conyers said he first met Parks during the early days of the civil rights struggle. He said that she worked on his congressional staff when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1964.

"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," he told CNN. "She was a real apostle of the nonviolence movement."

He remembered her as someone who never raised her voice -- and called her 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.

Bus boycott

She was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. Her marriage to Raymond Parks lasted from 1932 until his death in 1977.

Parks' father, James McCauley, was a carpenter, and her mother, Leona Edwards McCauley, a teacher.

Before her arrest in 1955, Parks was active in the voter registration movement and with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where she also worked as a secretary in 1943.

At the time of her arrest, Parks was 42 and on her way home from work as a seamstress.

Years later, Parks said "When I got on the bus that evening I wasn't thinking about causing a revolution or anything of the kind. ...

"But when that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." (Parks obituary)

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