Johnnie Carr, who joined childhood friend Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and succeeded Martin Luther King as chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association, died this week at age 97:
"Johnnie Carr is one of the three major icons of the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Johnnie Carr," said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "I think ultimately, when the final history books are written, she'll be one of the few people remembered for that terrific movement."
As the Improvement Association's president, Carr helped lead several initiatives to improve race relations and conditions for blacks. She was involved in a lawsuit to desegregate Montgomery schools, with her then-13-year-old son, Arlam, the named plaintiff.
"She hadn't been sick up until she had the stroke," Arlam Carr said Saturday. "It was such a massive stroke that she never was able to recover from it. She was still very active — going around and speaking — but it was just one of those things."
She played a prominent role in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat, speaking to thousands of schoolchildren who marched to the Capitol.
"Look back, but march forward," Carr urged the huge crowd of young people.
She also traveled to memorial services in Washington, where her eulogy of Parks was "really the most dynamic" moment, recalled Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"There were many people who spoke who were much better known ... but she carried the day," said Bond, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Just days before her stroke, Carr participated in King Day ceremonies in Montgomery, speaking after a parade. Admirers marveled at her energy and commitment into her 90s.
"She was always an encourager and not a divider," Mayor Bobby Bright told the Montgomery Advertiser. "She was just a loving person. She was truly the mother figure that we all so desperately needed in Montgomery during a very trying period of our history."
In a statement, Gov. Bob Riley said Carr was a "remarkable woman and will be deeply missed."
She was a true inspiration, Riley said, and "leaves behind a lasting legacy of pride, determination, and perseverance."