That Rosa Parks changed lives was attested to Monday when a thousand Utahns gave her a sustained standing ovation during an NAACP luncheon in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Utahns have personal stories to tell about Parks' impact on their lives:
Jeanetta Williams, who works for US WEST and is also first vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, grew up in Oklahoma. She was in kindergarten when Rosa Parks took her historic bus ride. "I don't remember when that happened, but I do remember hearing a lot about her when I was young. She was part of the civil rights movement. She shouldn't be forgotten. She's a person who is courageous and full of energy. She's very soft-spoken."With the action she took that day - hadn't even planned on doing - she gave fire to the civil rights movement."
Inequality was something Williams understood. "If you had to go to a hamburger place or a fried chicken restaurant, if you were black or Hispanic you had to go to sit in a back room." When she asked her elders why their family had to sit in a different room, they explained, "It's just not equal. Until our country has equal rights we have to sit in the back of the restaurant."
"That's what made me active in politics and the community." Williams moved to Utah several years ago. She serves on numerous boards, including Girl Scouts; was twice president of the American Businesswomen's Association. "It's just vital to be active in the community," she says.
Ronald Coleman, associate vice president for diversity and facility development at the University of Utah, says Rosa Parks is a hero. He was 11 years old in 1955 and doesn't remember the first time he heard her name. By the time he was 12 or 13, though, he knew and respected her.
"She's a hero for all segments of the American population, a person who stood up for justice, stood up for her own personal sense of self-worth and dignity. And when she took that courageous step that day, she paved the way for the beginning of the modern civil rights movement.
"You think of civil rights, immediately you think of Martin Luther King. You can't think of him without connecting to Rosa Parks."