October 26, 2005 08:00 AM

Praising civil rights icon Rosa Parks as “one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century,” President Bush said in a speech to military spouses on Tuesday that her “example helped touch off the civil rights movement, and transformed America for the better. She will always have a special place in American history, and our nation thinks of Rosa Parks and her loved ones today.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Canada, saluted Parks for having “inspired a whole generation of people to fight for freedom. And Mrs. Parks, who was 92 years old and lived a life that was long and inspirational well beyond that single act — I think for all of us, her inspiration will live on.”

Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus to a white man and thereby launched the modern civil rights movement, died at her home in Detroit Monday night.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks, a seamstress who lived in Montgomery, forever changed American history while riding a bus home from work. At that time, many places in the South such as buses, restaurants and other public facilities were segregated according to Jim Crow laws that had been in place since the Civil War.

Parks was seated at the front of the black section of the crowded bus when the driver demanded that she move farther back to make room for a white man. The 42-year-old woman refused to move, and was arrested by police and jailed.

Her arrest led to 381-day boycott by blacks (who comprised two-thirds of the system’s riders) of Montgomery’s buses. That boycott was organized by Rev. Martin Luther King and sparked the civil rights movement.

Popular history often portrays Parks as someone whose feet hurt and who was too tired to move. But in 1992 she corrected that sentiment: “The real reason of my not standing up was that I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “We had endured that kind of treatment for too long.”

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