Everyone in the family called her “Auntie Rosa.”
Her great-niece, Nicole McDowell, knew she did great things but always thought of her as just part of the family. “It didn’t really hit that I still thought of her as just ‘auntie’ until the week of the funeral,” said the animal science junior, whose mother was the closest living relative to Rosa Parks. The civil rights icon died on Oct. 24 – but not without leaving memories behind for generations.
Parks became active in the National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) in 1943, but she didn\’t gain national fame until 1955, when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions led to advances in the name of civil rights, specifically regarding a legal end to public transportation segregation. Later in life, Parks moved to Detroit with her husband. Following his death, she opened the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. When she died, she was laid in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, the first woman to be given such an honor. [mcdowellquote]
Marshanda Smith, assistant to history professor Darlene Clark Hine, was able to attend the funeral in Hine\’s absence. Hine wrote about Parks in her book, Black Women in America. “It was incredible,” said Smith. “The church was full and there was a line down the block of people waiting to get inside. There wasn’t a point during the funeral where there was an empty pew.”
McDowell said people were going to great lengths to get into the Nov. 2 funeral, even if it meant lying. “Everybody was being disrespectful of my family,” she said. “People were lying and saying they were family to get into the precession. Some of them were only related by marriage, but some weren’t even family. [People] just wanted to get their 15 minutes of fame.”
She also thought some of the speakers were inappropriate. “People who spoke at the funeral didn’t help the black community,\” said McDowell. \”A lot of them used it as a rally for themselves. They weren’t talking about the issues. They just shot things out there, like affirmative action. What she did should teach people that there are still discriminatory practices. It’s illegal in the books, but people still practice them. We have to stand up or nothing will be changed.” [mcdowellpic]
Attention to Parks’ legacy has been in full force at MSU. “She really sat down to stand up,\” said Alana Bowers, Black Student Alliance (BSA) member and zoology junior. \”It sounds cliché but it makes sense. I didn’t realize all the stuff she’s done. I feel bad that I didn’t get to learn more about her.”
But it\’s not too late. Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, other campaigns to recognize women\’s rights, the LBGT alliance and black arts have influenced the nation, and even at MSU, where students have been historically active in civil rights movements.
For example, in 1989, a group of students were fed up with the administration’s lack of support for minorities and locked themselves into the administration building. The event, known as the ’89 Study-In, was meant to grab the administration\’s attention and to receive acceptable answers to a list of 36 demands, which included regular contact with the president with faculty and administrators, redress of allegations of racism by faculty and administrators, recruitment and retention of minority graduate students and a multicultural advisory committee on minority issues. Students who were involved remained in the administration building for eight days until the administration finally addressed their demands.
The struggle was made into a documentary, “By Any Means Necessary,” and on Nov. 3, the BSA showed the documentary during their general meeting. Members of the group also discussed the issues on campus that still need to be addressed, such as the construction of a standing multicultural center, the overwhelming police security for black events compared to events for other groups and some professors\’ racist comments about blacks.
“There are pertinent issues and we need to stand up for what we believe in so future generations can have a better life,\” said Jasmine Gary, BSA president and social relations senior. [quote1]
Following the examples set by Parks and the ’89 Study-In, packaging senior Blair Starnes sees the need for greater activism today. “The black community needs to do what we have to do and can do to take care of each other,” said Starnes. “We need to stop talking blame and do something about it. The fact is that we need to talk about it or at least embrace what we believe in. Are we going through a similar struggle [as students in 1989] or our own set of struggles? We need to interrogate the issues.”
Bowers said students need to be active today, but that they need to think of new ways to change the status quo. “Maybe we need to stand up so future generations can sit down,” she said, reflecting on the path Parks chose to improve civil rights. “At least make some headway. I think maybe activism – and not necessarily a rally or protest – is needed. You have to personalize the activism.”
While it’s important to protest, other forms of activism may be what this generation needs to be effective. For Bowers, she said she isn\’t one to stand up in front of large crowds and speak on behalf of civil rights. “I think my calling is to be behind the scenes and talk to people and make an impact, like one at a time,\” she said.
Gary finds there is still much work to be done to achieve true equality among people. “Struggles then and struggles today are very similar, [such as] the issues with retention rates and residence halls,” said Gary. Retention rates deal with the number of black students coming into MSU versus the those who graduate, which is still much less.
“I think the administration should make sure the university is doing everything possible for students, said Gary. “I believe that what can be taken from Rosa Parks’ legacy is that she stood up for what she believed in.” [backbus]
McDowell now thinks addressing black issues should be done across cultures. “We need to be clear on what needs to be changed,” said McDowell. “The Black Power Movement was needed in the past. Now, we need to work with other races. There are no more great leaders like Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. They actually did what they talked about. We need leaders who do what they say they’re going do and not repeat the past.”
Losing a leader like Parks is a sad thing for a nation still struggling with civil rights, but her life and legacy left the example of how everyday people can and will continue to change our world. “[Parks] was just a regular person just like everyone else,” McDowell said of her \’Auntie.\’ “She did something that was in everyone’s grasp.”

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