A Medal For Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is getting the gold.

The House of Representatives voted in April 1999, to give the 86-year-old Parks a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest civilian award, for an act of defiance more than 40 years ago.

Often hailed as the "first lady" or "mother" of the civil rights movement, Parks was tired after a day's work as a seamstress in Montgomery, Ala., on a December day in 1955 and refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated city bus.

Her arrest set off a lengthy bus boycott by blacks that lasted until the Supreme Court declared Montgomery's bus segregation law unconstitutional and it was changed. The boycott was led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a local minister at the time.

"One brave act of a humble seamstress triggered an avalanche of change, which helped our country fulfill its commitment to equal rights for all Americans," said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "For her leadership and her example, Rosa Parks deserves to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal."

The House voted 424-1 for of the measure, one day after the Senate passed it without dissent. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, was the only lawmaker to vote against the bill, which President Clinton is expected to sign.

"This courageous act changed her life and our nation forever," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. "Passage of this bill will be our contribution to her legacy today."

Parks, an Alabama native, watched the debate on television from Los Angeles.

"Mrs. Parks is very excited to have this honor," said Anita Peek, executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. Parks co-founded the nonprofit group in 1987 to help young people in Detroit, where she now lives.

She moved there in 1957 after she lost her seamstress job and her family was harassed and threatened. She joined the staff of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in 1965. She worked there until retiring in 1988.

She now travels the country lecturing about civil rights.

A guest at Clinton's State of the Union address in January, Parks has received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, and the Spingarn Award, the NAACP's top civil rights honor.

Lawmakers initially used the Congressional Gold Medal to honor military leaders but began using it during the 20th century to recognize excellence in a range of fields, including the arts, athletics, politics, science and entertainment.

The first such medal was approved in March 1776 for George Washington for "wise and spirited conduct" during the Revolutionary War.

More than 320 medals have been awarded.

Recent honorees include Frank Sinatra, Mother Teresa, South African President Nelson Mandela and the "Little Rock Nine," the group that braved threats and jeers from white mobs to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.

The bil is H.R. 573.

Reported by Darlene Superville
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