Rosa Parks' legacy challenges new generation
The death of Rosa Parks underscores that the generation responsible for the key victories of the civil rights movement is fading into history, leaving its survivors with the challenge of keeping the movement's memory and work alive even as today's youth often seem disengaged.
"As people get older and people pass, it becomes more and more difficult to have that sort of firsthand knowledge" of the fight for integration, said U.S. Rep. John Lewis (news, bio, voting record), a Georgia Democrat who first met Parks as a 17-year-old student and activist. "It becomes a little more difficult to pass it on."
Lewis, who once headed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, added that the social challenges of today — persistent racial gaps in poverty, education and wealth, among others — highlight the continued need for activists and teachers to honor Parks' spirit.
"Her life should inspire a generation yet unborn to stand up," he said.
Parks is one of a handful of civil rights figures, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, whose name most young people seem to know.
But many are more familiar with "Rosa Parks," the hit song by the hip-hop group OutKast, than her full story, said Renada Johnson, a 25-year-old graduate student at Bowie State University in Maryland, who met Parks in 1997.
"Young people definitely know who she was, but all we were taught in school was that she didn't get up because her feet were hurting," Johnson said. "They don't know her whole story."
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