Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free... so other people would be also free.”
While she may not have been the first person to challenge the so-called “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws in the deep South, Rosa Parks became known nationwide as “the mother of the freedom movement” when she refused to move to the back of the bus to make room for a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Parks' defiant act and the subsequent Montgomery bus boycott, became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights movement. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a new minister in town at the time of her act of civil disobedience. And eventually, she became an international icon in her own right for resistance to racial segregation.
On December 1, 1955, Parks, a seamstress by profession, was on her way home from work on a Montgomery municipal bus and sat down in the first row of the “colored” section toward the back of the bus. When a white man boarded and found the front section full, the bus driver told everyone in Park’s row to get up and move back. While the others complied, Parks refused, and was promptly arrested and found guilty four days later. In reaction, Dr. King led a year-long, crippling boycott of the city bus system, getting jailed in the process and bringing the boycott to national attention. A year after Parks’ act of defiance, the US Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s bus segregation law was unconstitutional.
Parks was no stranger to activism. At the time of her arrest, she was the secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP where her husband Robert was an active member. She had recently attended leadership training in workers' rights and racial equality. Born Rosa Louise McCauley in 1913, she grew up living with her maternal grandparents, who were former slaves, and witnessed Ku Klux Klan activity and other forms of discrimination, attending segregated and inferior black-only schools.
Parks and her husband both lost their jobs as a result of her arrest and the ensuing court battles. Unable to find work, they relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where Parks worked for many years in US Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She also served on the board of Planned Parenthood of America.
In 2013, upon the unveiling of a statue of Parks in the US capital, President Obama said, “In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and changed the world…she takes her rightful place among those who shaped this nation’s course.”