Rosa Parks mourned as 'courageous woman, true American hero'

The woman whose name is synonymous with the American civil rights movement has died at 92. Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955.

The woman whose name is synonymous with the American civil rights movement has died.

Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, became the spark that ignited the civil rights movement in the U.S. South. Laws at the time required black Americans to give up their seats to white people.

Parks, 92, died of natural causes at her home in Detroit on Monday.

In a statement released Monday night, Massaschuseets Senator Edward Kennedy said: "The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American hero. A half century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but for generations upon generations of Americans."

Years later, Parks said "the real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."

'You may do that'

The 42-year-old seamstress was arrested and jailed after refusing to surrender her seat, and later fined $14.

Her simple reply when asked by the bus driver if she was going to give up her seat was, "No."

"Well, by God, I'm going to have you arrested," the driver said.

"You may do that," Parks told him.

That simple refusal to buckle to the hated whites-only laws in the American South would erupt into a boycott of the city's bus system by African-Americans that brought the company to its knees.

But more importantly, it focussed the world's attention on the unjust laws and discrimination faced by black Americans every day.

"At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in," she once said in an interview.

Protest brought Martin Luther King into spotlight

The 381-day boycott was organized by a little-known black leader, Martin Luther King Jr.

It would also be the first real attack on the hated Jim Crow laws that had been in place in the South since the end of the Civil War. Those laws required separation of the races in buses, restaurants and public accommodations. They also legally sanctioned racial discrimination that kept blacks out of many jobs and neighbourhoods in the North.

Eventually, the civil rights movement that grew out of the Montgomery bus boycott was successful in lobbying for the passage of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act.

For her part, Parks received so much attention that she was unable to find work in Alabama and moved to Detroit in 1957. She worked for Congressman John Conyers for the next 31 years.

She was the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour in the U.S.