Rosa Parks, symbol of civil rights struggle, set to win long battle to reclaim her name
Sunday 02 January 2005
A long-running legal battle between Rosa Parks, the civil rights era icon, and the hip-hop duo Outkast may be coming to an end.
Lawyers for both sides hope a deal may be reached following settlement talks with a mediator. Mrs Parks, now aged 91 and suffering from dementia, may not even be aware she is involved in a legal tussle.
The dispute relates to a 1998 song, "Rosa Parks", which made an oblique reference to the former seamstress's historic act when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Her action and subsequent arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the buses by the city's black population and helped spark the national civil rights movement.
The lyrics to the song, written by the band's two members, Big Boi and Andre 3000, includes the refrain "Ah ha, hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus" but, other than the title, makes no direct reference to Mrs Parks.
Mrs Parks's lawyers sued in 1999, claiming she had not given permission for her name to be used and that the song's title amounted to false advertising.
Her lawyer, Gregory Reed, claimed Mrs Parks, who lives in Detroit, was particularly upset because the song used the word "nigga" and included coarse descriptions of sex.
The Atlanta-based duo claimed they were protected by the First Amendment of the US constitution which protects free speech. A district court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit but it was reinstated by a higher court. The lawsuit - and a second against stores which sold the album on which the track appeared - was due to go ahead in the summer.
But some members of Mrs Parks's family question whether she would want such a lawsuit.
One of her 13 nieces and nephews, Rhea McCauley, told USA Today: "It's not something Auntie Rosie ever would have wanted. She was very unconcerned about money but very concerned about her privacy. This would not be the way she would want to be remembered."
Mrs Parks and the foundation she set up with her late husband have been plagued by money problems in recent years.
In 2002 she fell almost $5,000 behind with the rent for her apartment. The building's owner agreed she should live there rent free in recognition of her "tremendous contributions to the nation".
Her lawyer Mr Reed maintains that the lawsuit was not simply about money.
"What would it say if anyone were allowed to come along and put Rosa Parks's name on something she didn't consent to or even agree with?" he said. "That would take away her own ability to say what she really stood for."
He said he believed the forthcoming talks would reach a settlement.
"I take it as a very good sign that matters appear to be moving forward. It's time, for the sake of Mrs Parks, that everyone gets together to resolve this."
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