Image: Johnnie Carr
Rob Carr  /  AP
Longtime civil right activist Johnnie Carr listens to comments about Rosa Parks and the 50th Anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala., in this Dec. 1, 2005, file photo.
updated 2/23/2008 6:01:22 PM ET 2008-02-23T23:01:22

Johnnie Carr, who joined childhood friend Rosa Parks in the historic Montgomery bus boycott and became a prominent civil rights activist over the past half century, has died. She was 97.

Baptist Health hospital spokeswoman Melody Ragland said Carr died Friday night. She had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke Feb. 11.

Carr succeeded the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1967, a post she held at her death. It was the newly formed association that led the boycott of city buses in the Alabama capital in 1955 after Parks, a black seamstress, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to whites on a crowded bus.

A year later the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial segregation on public transportation.

As the 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 son, Arlam, the named plaintiff.

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.

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."

The family said funeral arrangements would be announced later.

Ragland, the hospital spokeswoman, said Carr's family said she had turned 97 last month.

In recent decades, civil rights landmarks, including the site where Parks was arrested, have become historic points of interest for tourists.

"When we first started, we weren't thinking about history," Carr told The Associated Press in an interview in 2003. "We were thinking about the conditions and the discrimination."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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