Rosa Parks opened doors for many

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 3, 2005

I was saddened by the news of Rosa Parks’ death last Thursday and thought about the role that she played and is still playing in my life and two of my friends’ lives.

One friend, Earnest Wiggins, was associated with the former Suffolk City Transit Company and Carolyn Fleetwood is employed as a supervisor with the Hampton Roads Transit Service in Suffolk.

On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered at St. Paul AME Church in Montgomery, Ala. for a memorial service for Parks. Following that service her body was flown to Washington, D.C. where she lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda until Monday night. Parks was the first black woman to have been bestowed this honor and her funeral is being held in Detroit, Mich. today.

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Wiggins, now a resident of Portsmouth, began driving city buses in Suffolk in 1962 and left in 1968. On Nov. 12, he is going to be honored at his church, New Bethel Baptist Church in Portsmouth, along with 20 additional members of his church, for the role that he played driving buses during the civil rights movement. The theme of that program will be &uot;Unsung Heroes.&uot;

Wiggins said that Parks opened the door for him to receive this honor and allowed him to become one of the first two black bus drivers in Suffolk.

He said that during the time that the buses displayed the sign &uot;White in Front, Colored in Rear,&uot; no blacks were allowed up front. However, the refusal of Parks to relinquish her seat to a white passenger in 1955 was the key in starting a boycott by blacks across the U.S. that ended in the sign being taken down and giving blacks the right to sit wherever they wanted.

&uot;During the civil rights movement, driving the bus was an accomplishment and quite an experience for me as a young man in my 20s,&uot; he said. &uot;Since then many other doors have been opened for me that might not have been if it hadn’t for Parks, and I am very happy to have played an important part in changing the history of transportation in Suffolk as Parks did across the entire United States.&uot;

Fleetwood began driving buses in Suffolk about 10 years ago and worked as an assistant supervisor about four years before becoming supervisor. Her main duty is to supervise other drivers. However, she is responsible for taking passengers’ complaints and then striving to work them out.

I have always teased Fleetwood about her small frame in a big bus. I also compliment her often and tell her that she seems to be handling a big job well. She told me after learning of Parks’ death that she owes her supervisory position to Parks.

&uot;When I learned of her death, I tried to imagine how it felt to be sitting in one of these seats and to be asked to give it up because of my skin color. The blessing of having this job and knowing about her contribution to make it possible will now hold a special meaning in my heart,&uot; she said.

At the memorial service at St. Paul Sunday many honorary dignitaries attended the service and Condoleeza Rice was among them. In her speech to the congregation about Parks she said that she could say that without Mrs. Parks she would probably not be standing there as Secretary of State. I can speak the same sentiment as a former reporter that resulted in my employment at this newspaper and being the first black female to have retired and to be the longest black column writer with a logo to honor my name. I also rode the city bus in the days of segregation, remember the sign at the front of the bus and remember when it was taken down.

There is a saying that &uot;Doing what is right will earn you great reward.&uot; One of Parks’ legacies is that she performed an act that began opening doors for all mankind. None of the rewards she received can top the Heavenly reward that she is now receiving.

Evelyn Wall is a retired News-Herald reporter and regular columnist.