The House of Representatives has joined the U.S. Senate in authorizing a Congressional Gold Medal for civil-rights pioneer Rosa Parks. The legislation also authorizes the production of bronze duplicates of the Parks medal for sale to the public.
House approval for a Parks medal came Wednesday, April 21, by a vote of 424 to 1. The Senate had approved the legislation unanimously, 86-0, the day before. It now goes to President Clinton, who is believed to be certain to sign it into law.
Parks, now 86, became a major catalyst for protest and racial reform in December 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Buses in that city were segregated at the time and blacks, such as Parks, were required to relinquish their seats to whites. Her refusal to do so resulted in her arrest. That in turn triggered a lengthy boycott of public transportation by members of Montgomery's black community.
The boycott lasted more than a year, ending only when the U.S. Supreme Court voided the city's bus segregation law. In addition to igniting the civil-rights movement throughout the South, the highly effective protest also produced the movement's greatest leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a local minister at the time, who headed the boycott.
Parks lost her job as a seamstress and moved to Detroit in 1957. But the process she helped set in motion has wrought enormous changes in the region she left behind. That was evident during House discussion of the gold medal bill when she received lavish praise from a white Alabama congressman, Republican Spencer Bachus, who is chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with coin and medal issues.
"She is an ordinary citizen with extraordinary courage," Bachus said of Parks. "She had the fortitude to claim for herself the most ordinary, the most basic of civil rights: to be treated fairly and equally."
Republican Ron Paul, from Texas cast the only dissenting vote on the Parks medal bill.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress. It has been given to 320 recipients over the years, starting with George Washington, who was honored in this manner in 1776 for his "wise and spirited conduct" as commander-in-chief of Colonial troops during the American Revolution. Recent honorees have included Frank Sinatra, Mother Teresa and South African President Nelson Mandela.