Rosa Parks Sued Outkast After They Named a Song After Her

In the late 1990s, Outkast released their single “Rosa Parks,” named after the civil rights activist. It was one of the best singles off of their album, Aquemini.

However, the rap duo’s music did not amuse Parks. She sued them twice for it.

Outkast at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia, 2000.
Outkast | R. Diamond/Getty Images

Rosa Parks sued Outkast for defamation and trademark infringement in 1999

According to Billboard, Parks filed a lawsuit against Outkast in 1999 alleging defamation and trademark infringement because they used her name without permission in “Rosa Parks.” The song is about the entertainment industry. The only connection to the civil rights activist in the lyrics appears in the chorus: “Ah-ha, hush that fuss. Everybody move to the back of the bus.”

This lyric, of course, alludes to the pivotal moment in civil rights history when Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.

A judge dismissed that first lawsuit. However, Parks’ lawyers filed a second suit in 2004, naming BMG, Arista Records LLC, and LaFace Records. The second suit sought more than $5 million.

Parks’ relatives were not happy, though.

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Parks’ relatives questioned her well-being during her lawsuit against Outkast

After Parks and her lawyers filed the second lawsuit, Parks’ relatives started questioning her well-being as well as “the actions of her caretaker and the lawyers who filed the suit,” Billboard wrote. Parks’ relatives alleged that the activist was most likely unaware of the lawsuits.

Dennis Archer, a former Detroit mayor and Michigan Supreme Court justice, was Parks’ guardian. Parks had been living with dementia since at least 2002 and had rarely been seen by the public since 2001.

Billboard wrote that Parks’ relatives believed “she wouldn’t have minded the use of her name in the song ‘Rosa Parks’ had she not been mentally impaired.”

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The lawsuit was settled in 2005

Parks and Outkast settled the lawsuit in 2005.

OutKast and Sony BMG Music Entertainment admitted no wrongdoing. Archer said in a statement that the defendants agreed to work on projects “to enlighten today’s youth about the significant role Rosa Parks played in making America a better place for all races.”

“The sacrifices and work that Mrs. Parks has made during her life to ensure that all people are treated fairly under the law is acknowledged and appreciated by both sides,” he continued.

Sony BMG attorney Joe Beck said the defendants were pleased with the lawsuit’s outcome. “We think it will go a long way towards teaching a new generation about Rosa Parks and her accomplishments, and we appreciate Mrs. Parks’ and her attorneys’ acknowledgment of the First Amendment in protecting artistic freedom,” he said.

In the settlement, “OutKast and the other defendants also agreed to work with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development to develop educational programs,” Billboard wrote.

So, at least all parties involved came out happy. Parks deserved respect, but Outkast was never trying to undermine that.

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