March 21, 2006 in Nation/World

Some against bill clearing Rosa Parks, others

Bob Johnson Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – During the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott last year, civil rights leaders called for a pardon of Rosa Parks over her arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man.

But now, some – including the pastor of the church Parks attended in Montgomery – are coming out against the idea.

With a bill moving through the Alabama Legislature to pardon Parks and perhaps hundreds of others for violating segregation-era laws, they say a pardon implies she did something wrong.

“Why would brave people like this need to get a pardon from anyone? Someone needs to tell them that we treated you wrong,” the Rev. Joseph Rembert, pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church, said Monday. “I want my grandson to know what she did.”

However, Mary Smith Ware, 69, urged passage of the pardon legislation. The black woman was arrested and fined $10 for refusing to give up her seat on a crowded city bus about two months before Parks’ arrest.

“I should be pardoned because I feel I didn’t have to get up and give my seat to anyone,” Ware said.

State Rep. Thad McClammy, a black Montgomery Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said the pardons will spell out that they are being issued because the Jim Crow laws were wrong. “I’m in no way trying to compromise history,” McClammy said.

The idea of pardoning Parks, who died in October at age 92, and others was raised during the December celebrations in Montgomery honoring the 50th anniversary of her arrest and the start of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said he would be uncomfortable pardoning Parks and others.

“They came up and resisted unethical, illegal and inhumane laws. I feel horribly inadequate to pardon someone who did nothing wrong,” said Bright, who is white. “We should be asking them to pardon us for the way we treated her and others in that period.”

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

Steele, a former member of the Alabama Senate, said he fears that if the arrests remain on the books, someone in the future will look at the records and not understand the moral context of the arrest.

Lillie Mae Bradford, 75, said she was arrested in 1951 after walking to the front of a bus to ask a driver for a different transfer. She said the driver used a racial slur in ordering her to the back. She said that arrest has caused her difficulties over the years.

“It caused me a lot of problems when I tried to get state, federal and city jobs because I had a police record,” Bradford said.

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