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Remembering Auntie Rosa

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 3/18/2013, 12:05 p.m.
Rosa Parks is eternally revered as the "mother of the Civil Rights Movement," an American...
Remembering Auntie Rosa

Rosa Parks is eternally revered as the "mother of the Civil Rights Movement," an American icon and a champion for freedom--all titles well-earned by her courageous act of defiance, which initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, bringing the city to its knees and sparking the Civil Rights Movement.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks was on her way home from work when she boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus at Court Square. As the bus grew more crowded, a white man boarded. Parks and the other African-Americans seated in the row were told to give up their seats, as was the law. Others moved, but Parks refused and was arrested. As news of the incident spread, a young civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., called for Black people to stop riding the buses. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for more than a year. It ended on Dec. 20, 1956 when the federal ruling, Browder v. Gayle, took effect, leading the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Alabama laws requiring segregation on public transportation vehicles to be unconstitutional.

And with that single defining moment, Parks was cast into icon status to be forever cemented in history. But to Jeanette McCauley, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was simply "Auntie Rosa."

Parks and McCauley were second cousins; McCauley's grandfather, Robert McCauley Sr., and Rosa's father, James McCauley, were brothers. She found out about her relationship to Parks completely by chance. Her parents hadn't told her about her blood link to the famed civil rights icon for fear of prejudicial backlash. But the more McCauley learned, the more in awe she was of Auntie Rosa.

"I believe I was 13 or 14 years old, in the seventh grade. They asked me to do a report for Black History Month and they gave me Rosa Parks. I went home and was telling my parents what I learned that day and that I had to go to the library and get information. My dad said, 'No you don't. Just give her a call.' I said, "How do you have Rosa Parks' phone number?" He said, 'She's your cousin.' I was never told this until I was studying her in seventh grade history," McCauley told the AmNews. "It caused a lot of controversy at school because they swore up and down I was lying," she said.

McCauley attended the predominantly white Petersburg Middle School. " We were the only ethnics in the school at the time," she said, "and Black History Month studies were very minimal."

"I had this famous lady in my family. I was honored that I had that kind of strength and will power in our bloodline. It was amazing.

"I went back to school very excited. My dad told me that Rosa Parks is my cousin. The teacher said I shouldn't tell lies like that. I was upset. It hurt my feelings. My dad said to call Rosa back and she could call the school. Rosa did call back and spoke to the class on speakerphone," McCauley recalled.