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Outside editorial: Rosa Parks Act realizes that laws change, has brave convictions

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

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Fifty-six years later, Lillie Mae Bradford is ready for her pardon.

Bradford was convicted in Montgomery, Ala., in 1951 of disorderly conduct for walking to the front of a bus - where blacks were not allowed - and asking for a bus transfer. The Rosa Parks Act, passed last year in Alabama and signed into law this month in Tennessee, allows civil rights trailblazers such as Bradford to clear their records.

The act pardons individuals convicted of a felony or misdemeanor that occurred while protesting laws meant to maintain racial segregation or discrimination. While many civil rights leaders consider their civil disobedience convictions a badge of honor, others lament the toll the criminal records may have taken on their careers.

Both Tennessee and Alabama will allow posthumous pardons. Alabama Democratic state Rep. Thad McClammy, who sponsored his state's legislation, said the first pardon has been offered to the estate of the bill's namesake, Parks, who set off the Montgomery bus boycott organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. after she refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger in 1955.

A version of the Rosa Parks Act introduced in Florida died in committee, and the bill's sponsors have said they will try again next year. We hope Florida and other states with Jim Crow pasts will decide to adopt this legislation.

While its practical effect appears modest - now that the civil rights generation is retiring - its symbolic meaning is immense. It recognizes that laws and social mores change and that these citizens were unjustly convicted for standing up for just convictions.



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