Too much debate over Parks#039; pardon

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 25, 2006

During the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott last year, some civil rights leaders called for a pardon of Rosa Parks, the black woman whose arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man sparked the historic protest. The state legislature was listening.

With a bill to pardon Parks and others for violating segregation-era laws moving through the Alabama Legislature, many civil rights activists say a pardon implies she did something wrong and might even diminish the importance of their historical acts.

On the evening of Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying a ridiculous Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full.

In the interest of human rights, she did the right thing. In the eyes of Alabama, she was a lawbreaker.

What she did by breaking those asinine rules was give the budding Civil Rights movement of the 1950s even more momentum and eventually helped turn the entire nation on its ear.

The national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Charles Steele, said he would like to see the Legislature vote to pardon Parks and others.

Pardoning Civil Rights pioneers – 89 from the bus boycott alone – is fine but it should come only at the request of each individual. Historically speaking, those arrests are a badge of honor and they are close to being wiped from the books.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery, said the measure is &uot;…aimed at giving the state a forward look.&uot; The pardon would be a way to clear the conscience of a state that still has the racist and archaic language of the early 1900s in our constitution still some 50-plus years later.

Basically it’s a back-handed apology from the state without actually having to say, &uot;I’m sorry.&uot;

It’s not a tribute to anyone’s legacy as some would lead us to believe. Rosa Parks’ legacy is tied directly to her arrest in that she refused to be treated like a second-class citizen even though her elected officials and the laws governing her home state called her one. Now, 50 years and three months later, legislators want to make it right.

It’s a nice gesture, but one that should have been made about 50 years ago – or at least before her death last year. Not in an election year following Ms. Parks’ death. Does she deserve a pardon? Absolutely. But we’ll never know if Rosa Parks would have sought or even accepted a pardon from Alabama.

We would argue that if Ms. Parks would have wanted a pardon, she would have asked for one in the more than 50-year span from her arrest to her death last year.

– The Clanton Advertiser