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Parks, Rosa

Rosa Parks

1913–2005

Activist, writer

According to the old saying, "some people are born to greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Greatness was certainly thrust upon Rosa Parks, but the modest former seamstress found herself equal to the challenge. Known as "the mother of the Civil Rights Movement," Parks almost single-handedly set in motion a veritable revolution in the southern United States, a revolution that would eventually secure equal treatment under the law for all black Americans. "For those who lived through the unsettling 1950s and 1960s and joined the civil rights struggle, the soft-spoken Rosa Parks was more, much more than the woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a White man in Montgomery, Alabama," wrote Richette L. Haywood in Jet. "[Hers] was an act that forever changed White America's view of Black people, and forever changed America itself."

Became Civil Rights Hero Overnight

From a modern perspective, Parks's actions on December 1, 1955, hardly seem extraordinary: tired after a long day's work, she refused to move from her seat in order to accommodate a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery. At the time, however, her defiant gesture actually broke a law, one of many bits of Jim Crow legislation that relegated blacks to second-class citizenship. Overnight Rosa Parks became a symbol for hundreds of thousands of frustrated black Americans who suffered outrageous indignities in a racist society. As Lerone Bennett, Jr. wrote in Ebony, Parks was consumed not by the prospect of making history, but rather "by the tedium of survival in the Jim Crow South." The tedium had become unbearable, and Rosa Parks acted to change it. Then, she was an outlaw. She has since become a hero.

Parks was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama. When she was still a young child her parents separated, and she moved with her mother to Montgomery. There she grew up in an extended family that included her maternal grandparents and her younger brother, Sylvester. Montgomery, Alabama, was hardly a hospitable city for blacks in the 1920s and 1930s. As she grew up, Rosa was shunted into second-rate all-black schools, such as the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, from which she had to leave before graduating to help care for sick relatives. She also dealt daily with laws governing her behavior in public places. Ms. magazine contributor Eloise Greenfield noted that Rosa always detested having to drink from special water fountains and having to forgo lunch at the whites-only restaurants downtown. Still, wrote Greenfield, "with her mother's help, Rosa was able to grow up proud of herself and other black people, even while living with these rules … People should be judged by the respect they have for themselves and others, Mrs. McCauley said. Rosa grew up believing this."

At twenty Rosa married a barber named Raymond Parks in 1932. The couple both held jobs and enjoyed a modest degree of prosperity. Encouraged by her husband, Mrs. Parks completed her high school education in 1934. In her spare time, Mrs. Parks became active in the NAACP and the Montgomery Voters League, a group that helped blacks to pass a special test so they could register to vote. By the time she reached mid-life, Rosa Parks was no stranger to white intimidation. Like many other Southern blacks, she often boycotted the public facilities marked "Colored," walking up stairs rather than taking elevators, for instance. She had a special distaste for the city's public transportation, as did many of her fellow black citizens.

The Jim Crow rules for the public bus system in Montgomery almost defy belief today. Black customers had to enter the bus at the front door, pay the fare, exit the front door and climb aboard again at the rear door. Even though the majority of bus passengers were black, the front four rows of seats were always reserved for white customers. Bennett wrote: "It was a common sight in those days to see Black men and women standing in silence and silent fury over the four empty seats reserved for whites." Behind these seats was a middle section that blacks could use only if there was no white demand. However, if so much as one white customer needed a seat in this "no- man's land," all the blacks in that section had to move. Bennett concluded: "This was, as you can see, pure madness, and it caused no end of trouble and hard feeling." In fact, Parks herself was once thrown off a bus for refusing to endure the charade of entry by the back door. In the year preceding Parks's fateful ride, three other black women had been arrested for refusing to give their seats to white men. Still the system was firmly entrenched, and Parks would often walk to her home to spare herself the humiliation of the bus.

Quietly Refused to Move

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks had a particularly tiring day. She was employed as a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store, and she had spent the day pressing numerous pairs of pants. She has since admitted that her back and shoulders ached terribly that day—she was forty-two at the time—and she deliberately let one full bus pass in order to find a seat on the next one. The seat she eventually found was in the middle section of the bus, because the back was filled. A few stops further down the line, a white man got on and demanded a seat. The driver ordered Parks and three other black customers to move. The other riders did as they were told, but Parks quietly refused to give up her place. The driver threatened to call the police. Parks said: "Go ahead and call them."

Bennett wrote: "There then occurred one of those little vignettes that could have changed the course of history. The [police] officers asked the driver if he wanted to swear out a warrant or if he wanted them to let Rosa Parks go with a warning. The driver said he wanted to swear out a warrant, and this decision and the convergence of a number of historical forces sealed the death warrant of the Jim Crow South."

At a Glance …

Born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, AL; died on October 24, 2005, in Detroit, MI; daughter of James (a carpenter) and Leona (a teacher) McCauley; married Raymond Parks (a barber, died 1977), 1932. Education: Attended Montgomery Industrial School for Girls; Alabama State College.

Career: Montgomery, Alabama, numerous jobs, 1933–57, including seamstress at Montgomery Fair Department Store; Detroit, Michigan, seamstress, 1957–65; administrative assistant to United States Congressman John Conyers, 1965–88; director, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, Detroit, Michigan, 1987–1990s.

Memberships: NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Distinguished Sons and Daughters of the Civil Rights Movement.

Awards: Numerous honorary degrees; major thorough fare in Detroit is named after her; SCLC sponsors an annual Rosa Parks Freedom Award; Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1979; Martin Luther King Jr. Award, 1980; Service Award, Ebony, 1980; Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize, 1980; The Eleanor Roosevelt Women of Courage Award, Wonder Women Foundation, 1984; Medal of Honor, awarded during the 100th birthday celebration of the Statue of Liberty, 1986; Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award, 1987; Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Legislative Achievement Award, 1990; Medal of Freedom Award, presented by President Bill Clinton, 1996; Rosa Parks Peace Prize; honored with Day of Recognition by Wayne County Commission; International Freedom Conductor Award, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 1998; Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award, 1999; U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, 1999; Governor's Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage, Alabama, 2000; lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda, 2005.

Parks was driven to the police station, booked, finger-printed, and jailed. She was also photographed as she was being fingerprinted, a snapshot that has since found its way into history textbooks. Parks was granted one telephone call, and she used it to contact E. D. Nixon, a prominent member of Montgomery's NAACP chapter. Nixon was properly outraged, but he also sensed that in Parks his community might have the perfect individual to serve as a symbol of Southern injustice. Nixon called a liberal white lawyer, Clifford Durr, who agreed to represent Parks. After consulting with the attorney, her husband, and her mother, Rosa Parks agreed to undertake a court challenge of the segregationist law that had led to her arrest.

Word of Parks's arrest spread quickly through Montgomery's black community, and several influential black leaders decided the time was ripe to try a boycott of the public transportation system. One of these leaders, the reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., used the mimeograph machine at his Baptist church to make 7,000 copies of a leaflet advertising the boycott. The message of the leaflet was plain: "Don't ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place Monday, December 5 … If you work, take a cab, or share a ride, or walk."

Actions Inspired Bus Boycott

The black boycott of Montgomery's city buses was almost universal on December 5, 1955. A meeting on the subject that evening drew an overflow crowd numbering in the thousands, and a decision was made to continue the boycott indefinitely. On Tuesday, December 6th, Parks was found guilty of failure to comply with a city ordinance and fined $14. She and her attorney appealed the ruling while the boycott wore on. Ebony correspondent Roxanne Brown wrote: "For 381 days, Blacks car-pooled and walked to work and church. Their unified effort not only helped put an end to Jim Crow sectioning on the buses, it was also financially devastating for the bus company. It was this monumental event—watched by the world—that triggered the modern-day Black Freedom Movement and made a living legend of Mrs. Parks."

Thrust into the limelight, Parks suddenly found her life opened to the public. Parks and her family received numerous threats and almost constant telephone harassment. The strain actually caused Raymond Parks to suffer a nervous breakdown. In 1957 Rosa and Raymond Parks (and Rosa's mother) moved north to Detroit, Michigan. If Rosa Parks was safer in Detroit, she was never quite allowed to recede into anonymity. As the years passed she was sought out repeatedly as a dignified spokesperson for the civil rights movement. A number of universities awarded her honorary degrees, and Detroit congressman John Conyers persuaded her to join his staff in 1965. In 1988, upon Parks' retirement from her job with Conyers, Roxanne Brown noted: "Thirty-two years after she attracted international attention for sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mrs. Parks's ardent devotion to human rights still burns brightly, like a well-tended torch that ignites her spirit and calls her to service whenever she is needed."

Remained a Humble Leader

Age did not rob Rosa Parks of her beauty and grace, nor did it restrict her travels and activities. She continued to make some 25 to 30 personal appearances per year throughout her 70s and was a vocal opponent of apartheid in South Africa. Her crowning achievement, however, remains the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she founded in Detroit in 1987. The institute offers career training for 12- to 18-year-olds with special attention to education and motivation. "Too many young people are not staying in school and taking advantage of the opportunities they have," Parks told Ebony. "They're not motivated to learn what is necessary to get the good positions, the good jobs, to go into business for themselves."

In February of 1990 Parks received yet another round of adulation as she was honored at Washington's Kennedy Center on her seventy-seventh birthday. Tribute chairperson C. Delores Tucker praised Parks for her "beautiful qualities" of "dignity and indomitable faith that with God nothing can stop us." In typical fashion, Parks received the tribute with all due modesty—throughout the years, she took little credit for her role in the history of the civil rights movement. Asked to reveal the secret of her positive attitude, she told Ebony: "I find that if I'm thinking too much of my own problems, and the fact that at times things are not just like I want them to be, I don't make any progress at all. But if I look around and see what I can do, and go on with that, then I move on."

Meanwhile, awards in her honor continued to roll in. She received the prestigious Medal of Freedom Award from President Bill Clinton in 1996. Jet quoted the president at the awards ceremony: "When she sat down on the bus, she stood up for the American ideals of equality and justice and demanded that the rest of us do the same." In 1998 Parks received the first International Freedom Conductor Award given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. A year later she was awarded the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award for her contribution to the cause of freedom and peace. During the dedication Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer was quoted by PR Newswire as saying, "Her dignity and grace has inspired generations of freedom fighters and defenders of human rights."

Received Awards, Gave Back to Community

In July of 1999 the U.S. Congress awarded Parks the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation's highest civilian award. In accepting the award at a ceremony in the nation's capital presided over by President Bill Clinton, Parks said, as quoted Jet, "This medal is encouragement for all of us to continue until all people have equal rights." The first recipient of this award was George Washington. Other recipients include Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. The following September, Parks was inducted in to the Alabama Academy of Honor, an organization that recognizes Alabama citizens for their contribution to the state. Later that same year she was awarded the first Governor's Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage from Alabama Governor Donald Seigelman.

In December of 2000 Troy State University in Montgomery, Alabama dedicated a library and museum in Parks's name. Despite frail health she was able to attend the ceremony thanks to a prominent African-American attorney who flew her there on his private jet. The museum features a replica of the bus she was sitting on that fateful day in December 1955 and recounts the conversation between Parks and the bus driver who demanded she give up her seat. Meanwhile, the actual bus where it all took place was bought by Dearborn, Michigan's Henry Ford Museum for $492,000 in 2001. Upon the museum's acquisition of the bus, Parks attended a private viewing where the museum pledged to restore the bus to its 1955 appearance, which it did by 2003. In January of 2002 Rosa Parks's former Alabama home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, a federal building in Detroit was named in honor of Parks.

Legacy Lives on in Books, Film

The message of Parks's life continues to be told through books and film. In 1992 she published a children's book entitled Rosa Parks: My Story. It is a chronology of her life leading up to the monumental day in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. The book is a historical reminder to children that the freedoms they enjoy today were hard won. She wrote in the book, "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired but that wasn't true. I was not tired physically … I was not old … I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." Five years later, she and author Jim Haskins, reissued the book for a younger audience. Full of colorful illustrations and age-appropriate definitions of concepts such as segregation and racism, the newly titled book, I Am Rosa Parks, allows children as young as four to grasp the importance of the civil rights movement.

In 2002 CBS released the television movie The Rosa Parks Story starring Angela Bassett in the title role. The film recounted her early life, the incident on the Montgomery bus in 1955, and her role in the civil rights movement, as well as her relationship with her husband Raymond Parks. "I chuckled many times about the courtship scene," Parks told Jet. Filmed in Alabama, it was the first film about her life made with her participation.

Despite her fame and prestige in her community, Parks had plenty of difficult experiences throughout the rest of her life. In September of 1994 a 28 year-old man broke into Parks's Detroit home and robbed and beat her. He was caught the next day. With characteristic grace, Parks was quoted in Jet as saying of the attack, "I regret very much that some of our people are in such a mental state that they would hurt and rob an older person." A few years later Parks found her name being used for a song title on the rap group OutKast's third album. She had not given her consent and in April of 1999 filed a lawsuit requesting her name removed from all OutKast products and asking for $25,000. In an ironic twist, the group hired the attorney for Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate to defend them. In a November 1999 decision that raised both public and press outrage, a judge ruled against Parks, stating that OutKast's use of her name was protected under the First Amendment. Parks's lawyers filed to reinstate her lawsuit in 2001, and the Supreme Court ruled in December 2003 that the suit could indeed be heard. OutKast was eventually dropped as a defendant, but in August 2004 a separate suit was filed against the record companies with which OutKast is affiliated and against stores that sold OutKast's records; a settlement was reached in 2005. Another case involving the misuse of her name started in 2000 when Parks discovered that a third party had registered the Internet domain name www.rosaparks.com and was offering it for sale. According to her attorney, quoted in PR Newswire, "We sent a cease and desist letter to the registered owner of the Web site and demanded the transfer of ownership to Mrs. Parks. The transfer is now being made."

Nearly half a century after making a decision to continue sitting on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus, Rosa Parks had developed into a legend. Though she was oft quoted as saying that she didn't set out that day in December 1955 to make history, she did. And in doing so, she also changed it. "She sat down in order that we might stand up," Rev. Jesse Jackson said in an interview with the New York Times upon the news of her death in October of 2005. "Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors for our long journey to freedom." Parks died on October 24, 2005; her legacy continues on and is felt every day by Americans of all backgrounds, races, and creeds.

Selected works

Books

(With Jim Haskins) Rosa Parks: My Story, Dial Books, 1992.
(With Gregory J. Reed) Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth, Lee & Low Books, 1996.
(with Jim Haskins) I Am Rosa Parks, Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997.

Sources

Books

Brinkley, Douglas G. Rosa Parks, Penguin, 2000.

Grant, Callie Smith, Free Indeed: African-American Christians and the Struggle for Equality, Barbour, 2003.

Greenfield, Eloise, Rosa Parks, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973.

Kohl, Herbert, She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, New Press, 2005.

Parks, Rosa, with Gregory J. Reed, Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

Roop, Peter, and Connie Roop, Take a Stand, Rosa Parks, Scholastic, 2005.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, February 1993, p. 24.

Detroit Free Press, October 14, 2004.

Ebony, August 1971; September 1977; February 1988; January 2006.

Entertainment Weekly, December 19, 2003.

Essence, May 1985.

Jet, March 5, 1990; September 19, 1994, p. 22; September 23, 1996, p. 4; July 5, 1999, p. 32; December 13, 1999, p. 4; December 18, 2000, p. 8; September 18, 2000, p. 24; December 17, 2001, p. 10; February 25, 2002, p. 58; May 2, 2005, p. 17; November 21, 2005, p. 6.

Maclean's, August 3, 1998, p. 22.

Ms., August 1974.

Newsweek, November 12, 1979; December 26, 2005, p. 122.

New York Times, October 25, 2005, p. A1; October 26, 2005, p. A20.

PR Newswire, June 30, 1999; September 19, 2000; April 16, 2001; October 26, 2001.

Publishers Weekly, January 20, 1997, p. 402.

Smithsonian, December 2005, p. 34.

Vanity Fair, January 2006, p. 89.

On-line

Troy State University Rosa Parks Library and Museum, http://montgomery.troy.edu/museum (March 15, 2006).

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Parks, Rosa 1913–

Rosa Parks 1913

Civil Rights activist

Grew Up Amid Racism

Refused to Give Up Seat on Bus

Inspired Bus Boycott

Founded Institute in Detroit

Awarded Congressional Medal of Honor

Story Made Into TV Movie

Sources

According to the old saying, some people are born to greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Greatness was certainly thrust upon Rosa Parks, but the modest former seamstress has found herself equal to the challenge. Known today as the mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Parks almost singlehandedly set in motion a veritable revolution in the southern United States, a revolution that would eventually secure equal treatment under the law for all black Americans. For those who lived through the unsettling 1950s and 1960s and joined the civil rights struggle, the soft-spoken Rosa Parks was more, much more than the woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a White man in Montgomery, Alabama, wrote Richette L. Haywood in Jet. [Hers] was an act that forever changed White Americas view of Black people, and forever changed America itself.

From a modern perspective, Parkss actions on December 1, 1955 hardly seem extraordinary: tired after a long days work, she refused to move from her seat in order to accommodate a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery. At the time, however, her defiant gesture actually broke a law, one of many bits of Jim Crow legislation that assured second-class citizenship for blacks. Overnight Rosa Parks became a symbol for hundreds of thousands of frustrated black Americans who suffered outrageous indignities in a racist society. As Lerone Bennett, Jr. wrote in Ebony, Parks was consumed not by the prospect of making history, but rather by the tedium of survival in the Jim Crow South. The tedium had become unbearable, and Rosa Parks acted to change it. Then, she was an outlaw. Today she is a hero.

Grew Up Amid Racism

Parks was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama. When she was still a young child her parents separated, and she moved with her mother to Montgomery. There she grew up in an extended family that included her maternal grandparents and her younger brother, Sylvester. Montgomery, Alabama, was hardly a hospitable city for blacks in the 1920s and 1930s. As she grew up, Rosa was shunted into second-rate all-black schools, such as the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, and she faced daily rounds of laws governing her behavior in public places. Ms. magazine contributor Eloise Greenfield noted that Rosa always detested having to drink from special water fountains and having to forgo lunch at the whites-only restaurants downtown. Still, wrote Greenfield, with her mothers help, Rosa was able to grow up proud of herself and other black people, even while living with these rules. People should be judged by the respect they have for themselves and others, Mrs. McCauley said. Rosa grew up believing this.

At twenty Rosa married a barber named Raymond Parks. The couple both held jobs and enjoyed a modest degree of prosperity. In her spare time, Mrs. Parks became active in the NAACP and the Montgomery Voters League, a group that helped blacks to pass a special test so they could register to vote. By the time she reached mid-life, Rosa Parks was no stranger to

At a Glance

Born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama; daughter of James (a carpenter) and Leona (a teacher) McCauley; married Raymond Parks (a barber), c. 1933. Education: Attended Montgomery Industrial School for Girls; AL State College.

Career: Employed in Montgomery, Alabama, in a series of jobs, 1933-57, including seamstress at Montgomery Fair Department Store; moved to Detroit, Michigan, 1957; became administrative assistant to United States Congressman John Conyers, 1965-88; director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, Detroit, Michigan; author, Rosa Parks: My Story, 1993.

Memberships: NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Distinguished Sons and Daughters of the Civil Rights Movement.

Awards: Numerous honorary degrees; major thoroughfare in Detroit is named after her; SCLC sponsors an annual Rosa Parks Freedom Award; Spingam Medal, NAACP, 1979; Martin Luther King Jr Award, 1980; Service Award, Ebony, 1980; Martin Luther King Jr Nonviolent Peace Prize, 1980; The Eleanor Roosevelt Women of Courage Award, Wonder Women Foundation, 1984; Medal of Honor, awarded during the 100th birthday celebration of the Statue of Liberty, 1986; Martin Luther King Jr Leadership Award, 1987; Adam Clayton Powell Jr Legislative Achievement Award, 1990; Rosa Parks Peace Prize; honored with Day of Recognition by Wayne County Commission; U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, 1999.

white intimidation. Like many other Southern blacks, she often boycotted the public facilities marked Colored, walking up stairs rather than taking elevators, for instance. She had a special distaste for the citys public transportation, as did many of her fellow black citizens.

The Jim Crow rules for the public bus system in Montgomery almost defy belief today. Black customers had to enter the bus at the front door, pay the fare, exit the front door and climb aboard again at the rear door. Even though the majority of bus passengers were black, the front four rows of seats were always reserved for white customers. Bennett wrote: It was a common sight in those days to see Black men and women standing in silence and silent fury over the four empty seats reserved for whites. Behind these seats was a middle section that blacks could use only if there was no white demand. However, if so much as one white customer needed a seat in this no-mans land, all the blacks in that section had to move. Bennett concluded: This was, as you can see, pure madness, and it caused no end of trouble and hard feeling. In fact, Parks herself was once thrown off a bus for refusing to endure the charade of entry by the back door. In the year preceding Parkss fateful ride, three other black women had been arrested for refusing to give their seats to white men. Still the system was firmly entrenched, and Parks would often walk to her home to spare herself the humiliation of the bus.

Refused to Give Up Seat on Bus

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks had a particularly tiring day. She was employed as a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store, and she had spent the day pressing numerous pairs of pants. She has since admitted that her back and shoulders ached terribly that dayshe was forty-two at the timeand she deliberately let one full bus pass in order to find a seat on the next one. The seat she eventually found was in the middle section of the bus, because the back was filled. A few stops further down the line, a white man got on and demanded a seat. The driver ordered Parks and three other black customers to move. The other riders did as they were told, but Parks quietly refused to give up her place. The driver threatened to call the police. Parks said: Go ahead and call them.

Bennett wrote: There then occurred one of those little vignettes that could have changed the course of history. The [police] officers asked the driver if he wanted to swear out a warrant or if he wanted them to let Rosa Parks go with a warning. The driver said he wanted to swear out a warrant, and this decision and the convergence of a number of historical forces sealed the death warrant of the Jim Crow South.

Parks was driven to the police station, booked, fingerprinted, and jailed. She was also photographed as she was being fingerprinted, a snapshot that has since found its way into history textbooks. Parks was granted one telephone call, and she used it to contact E. D. Nixon, a prominent member of Montgomerys NAACP chapter. Nixon was properly outraged, but he also sensed that in Parks his community might have the perfect individual to serve as a symbol of Southern injustice. Nixon called a liberal white lawyer, Clifford Durr, who agreed to represent Parks. After consulting with the attorney, her husband, and her mother, Rosa Parks agreed to undertake a court challenge of the segregationist law that had led to her arrest.

Inspired Bus Boycott

Word of Parkss arrest spread quickly through Montgomerys black community, and several influential black leaders decided the time was ripe to try a boycott of the public transportation system. One of these leaders, the reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., used the mimeograph machine at his Baptist church to make 7, 000 copies of a leaflet advertising the boycott. The message of the leaflet was plain: Dont ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place Monday, December 5. If you work, take a cab, or share a ride, or walk.

The black boycott of Montgomerys city buses was almost universal on December 5, 1955. A meeting on the subject that evening drew an overflow crowd numbering in the thousands, and a decision was made to continue the boycott indefinitely. On Tuesday, December 6th, Parks was found guilty of failure to comply with a city ordinance and fined $14. She and her attorney appealed the ruling while the boycott wore on. Ebony correspondent Roxanne Brown wrote: For 381 days, Blacks car-pooled and walked to work and church. Their unified effort not only helped put an end to Jim Crow sectioning on the buses, it was also financially devastating for the bus company. It was this monumental eventwatched by the worldthat triggered the modern-day Black Freedom Movement and made a living legend of Mrs. Parks.

It is not necessarily easy to be a living legend, however. Parks and her family received numerous threats and almost constant telephone harassment. The strain actually caused Raymond Parks to suffer a nervous breakdown. In 1957 Rosa and Raymond Parks (and Rosas mother) moved north to Detroit, Michigan. If Rosa Parks was safer in Detroit, she was never quite allowed to recede into anonymity. As the years passed she was sought out repeatedly as a dignified spokesperson for the civil rights movement.

A number of universities have awarded her honorary degrees, and she earned a prestigious job on the staff of Detroit congressman John Conyers. In 1988 Roxanne Brown noted: Thirty-two years after she attracted international attention for sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mrs. Parkss ardent devotion to human rights still burns brightly, like a well-tended torch that ignites her spirit and calls her to service whenever she is needed.

Founded Institute in Detroit

Age has not robbed Rosa Parks of her beauty and grace, nor has it restricted her travels and activities. She still makes some twenty-five to thirty personal appearances per year. Her crowning achievement, however, is the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she founded in Detroit. The institute offers career training for 12-to 18-year-olds with special attention to education and motivation. Too many young people are not staying in school and taking advantage of the opportunities they have, Parks told Ebony. Theyre not motivated to learn what is necessary to get the good positions, the good jobs, to go into business for themselves.

In February of 1990 Parks received yet another round of adulation as she was honored at Washingtons Kennedy Center on her seventy-seventh birthday. Tribute chairperson C. Delores Tucker praised Parks for her beautiful qualities of dignity and indomitable faith that with God nothing can stop us. In typical fashion, Parks received the tribute with all due modestyto this day she takes little credit for her role in the history of the civil rights movement. Asked to reveal the secret of her positive attitude, she told Ebony: I find that if Im thinking too much of my own problems, and the fact that at times things are not just like I want them to be, I dont make any progress at all. But if I look around and see what I can do, and go on with that, then I move on.

The woman known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement has continued to inspire well into her eighties. Rosa Parks remains committed to her Detroit-based foundation, The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development and has overseen programs such as Pathways to Freedom, which encourages young people to learn about their heritage and reach their potential. In 1998 she spent five days in Nova Scotia in support of the program.

Meanwhile, awards in her honor have continued to roll in. She received the prestigious Medal of Freedom award from President Bill Clinton in 1996. Jet quoted the president at the awards ceremony: When she sat down on the bus, she stood up for the American ideals of equality and justice and demanded that the rest of us do the same. In 1998 Parks received the first International Freedom Conductor Award given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. A year later she was awarded the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival Freedom Award for her contribution to the cause of freedom and peace. During the dedication Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer was quoted by PR Newswire as saying, Her dignity and grace has inspired generations of freedom fighters and defenders of human rights.

Awarded Congressional Medal of Honor

In July of 1999 the U.S. Congress awarded Parks the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nations highest civilian award. In accepting the award at a ceremony in the nations capital presided over by President Bill Clinton, Parks said, as quoted Jet, This medal is encouragement for all of us to continue until all people have equal rights. The first recipients of this award was George Washington. Other recipients include Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. The following September Parks was inducted in to the Alabama Academy of Honor, an organization that recognizes Alabama citizens for their contribution to the state. Later that same year she was awarded the first Governors Medal of Honor for Extraordinary Courage from Alabama Governor Donald Seigelman.

In December of 2000 Troy State University in Montgomery, Alabama dedicated a library and museum in Parkss name. Despite frail health she was able to attend the ceremony thanks to a prominent African-American attorney who flew her there on his private jet. The museum features a replica of the bus she was sitting on that fateful day in December 1955 and recounts the conversation between Parks and the bus driver who demanded she give up her seat. Meanwhile, the actual bus where it all took place was bought by Dearborn, Michigans Henry Ford Museum for $492, 000 in 2001. Upon the museums acquisition of the bus, Parks attended a private viewing where the museum pledged to restore the bus to its 1955 appearance.

In April of 2001 the Rosa Parks Initiative was kicked off in Detroit. Sponsored by a non-profit organization, the initiative hopes to build an $8 million monument complete with one million roses and an interactive history of the Civil Rights movement in that citys Belle Isle park. In January of 2002 Rosa Parks former Alabama home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The message of Parkss life also continues to be told through books and film. In 1993 she published a childrens book entitled Rosa Parks: My Story. It is a chronology of her life leading up to the monumental day in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. The book is a historical reminder to children that the freedoms they enjoy today were hard won. She wrote in the book, People always say that I didnt give up my seat because I was tired but that wasnt true I was not tired physically I was not old. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. Four years later, she and author Jim Haskins, reissued the book for a younger audience. Full of colorful illustrations and age-appropriate definitions of concepts such as segregation and racism, the newly titled book, I Am Rosa Parks, allows children as young as four to grasp the importance of the Civil Rights Movement.

Story Made Into TV Movie

In 2002 CBS released the television movie The Rosa Parks Story starring Angela Bassett in the title role. The film recounted her early life, the incident on the Montgomery bus in 1955, and her role in the Civil Rights movement, as well as her relationship with her husband Raymond Parks. I chuckled many times about the courtship scene, Parks told Jet. Filmed in Alabama, it was the first film about her life made with her participation.

Not all of Parkss recent experiences have been honorary. In September of 1994 a 28 year-old man broke into Parkss Detroit home and robbed and beat her. He was caught the next day. With characteristic grace, Parks was quoted in Jet as saying of the attack, I regret very much that some of our people are in such a mental state that they would hurt and rob an older person. A few years later Parks found her name being used for a song title on the rap group OutKasts third album. She had not given her consent and in April of 1999 filed a lawsuit requesting her name removed from all OutKast products and asking for $25, 000. In an ironic twist, the group hired the attorney for Martin Luther King Jr.s estate to defend them. In a decision that raised both public and press outrage, the judge ruled against Parks, stating that OutKasts use of her name was protected under the First Amendment. However, in another case involving the misuse of her name, Parks was the victor. In 2000 she discovered that a third party had registered the internet domain name www.rosaparks.com and was offering it for sale. According to her attorney, quoted in PR Newswire, We sent a cease and desist letter to the registered owner of the Web site and demanded the transfer of ownership to Mrs. Parks. The transfer is now being made.

In 2002, nearly half a century after making a decision to continue sitting on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus, Parks is a living legend. Though she was oft-quoted as saying that she didnt set out that day in December 1955 to make history, she did. And in doing so, she also changed it. Her legacy is felt every day by Americans of all backgrounds, races, and creeds.

Sources

Books

Greenfield, Eloise, Rosa Parks, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, February 1993, p. 24.

Ebony, August 1971; September 1977; February 1988.

Essence, May 1985.

Jet, March 5, 1990; September 19, 1994, p. 22; September 23, 1996, p. 4; July 5, 1999, p. 32; December 13, 1999, p. 4; December 18, 2000, p. 8; September 18, 2000, p. 24; December 17, 2001, p. 10; February 25, 2002, p. 58.

MacLeans, August 3, 1998, p. 22.

Ms., August 1974.

Newsweek, November 12, 1979.

PR Newswire, June 30, 1999; September 19, 2000; April 16, 2001; October 26, 2001.

Publishers Weekly, January 20, 1997, p. 402.

Mark Kram and Candace LaBalle

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Parks, Rosa 1913—

Rosa Parks 1913

Civil rights activist

At a Glance

Jim Crow Laws

Rev. King Organized Bus Boycott

Still Active in the Struggle

Sources

According to the old saying, some people are born to greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Greatness was certainly thrust upon Rosa Parks, but the modest former seamstress has found herself equal to the challenge. Known today as the mother of the modern civil rights movement, Parks almost singlehandedly set in motion a veritable revolution in the southern United States, a revolution that would eventually secure equal treatment under the law for all black Americans. For those who lived through the unsettling 1950s and 1960s and joined the civil rights struggle, the soft-spoken Rosa Parks was more, much more than the woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a White man in Montgomery, Alabama, wrote Richette L. Haywood in Jet. [Hers] was an act that forever changed White Americas view of Black people, and forever changed America itself.

From a modern perspective, Parkss actions on December 1, 1955 hardly seem extraordinary: tired after a long days work, she refused to move from her seat in order to accommodate a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery. At the time, however, her defiant gesture actually broke a law, one of many bits of Jim Crow legislation that assured second-class citizenship for blacks. Overnight Rosa Parks became a symbol for hundreds of thousands of frustrated black Americans who suffered outrageous indignities in a racist society. As Lerone Bennett, Jr. wrote in Ebony, Parks was consumed not by the prospect of making history, but rather by the tedium of survival in the Jim Crow South. The tedium had become unbearable, and Rosa Parks acted to change it. Then, she was an outlaw. Today she is a hero.

Parks was born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama. When she was still a young child her parents separated, and she moved with her mother to Montgomery. There she grew up in an extended family that included her maternal grandparents and her younger brother, Sylvester. Montgomery, Alabama, was hardly a hospitable city for blacks in the 1920s and 1930s. As she grew up, Rosa was shunted into second-rate all-black schools, such as the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, and she faced daily rounds of laws governing her behavior in public places. Ms. magazine contributor Eloise Greenfield noted that Rosa always detested having to drink from special water fountains and having to forgo lunch at the whites-only

At a Glance

Born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, AL; daughter of James (a carpenter) and Leona (a teacher) McCauley; married Raymond Parks (a barber), c. 1933. Education: Attended Montgomery Industrial School for Girls.

Employed in Montgomery, AL, in a series of jobs, 1933-57, including seamstress at Montgomery Fair Department Store. Moved to Detroit, Ml, 1957; became administrative assistant to United States Congressman John Conyers. Currently director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, Detroit.

Member: NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Distinguished Sons and Daughters of the Civil Rights Movement.

Awards: Has received numerous awards and tributes, including a dozen honorary degrees; honored by several community awards, including Rosa Parks Community Service Award and Rosa Parks Scholarship. A major thoroughfare in Detroit is named after Mrs. Parks.

restaurants downtown. Still, wrote Greenfield, with her mothers help, Rosa was able to grow up proud of herself and other black people, even while living with these rules. People should be judged by the respect they have for themselves and others, Mrs. McCauley said. Rosa grew up believing this.

At twenty Rosa married a barber named Raymond Parks. The couple both held jobs and enjoyed a modest degree of prosperity. In her spare time, Mrs. Parks became active in the NAACP and the Montgomery Voters League, a group that helped blacks to pass a special test so they could register to vote. By the time she reached mid-life, Mrs. Parks was no stranger to white intimidation. Like many other Southern blacks, she often boycotted the public facilities marked Colored, walking up stairs rather than taking elevators, for instance. She had a special distaste for the citys public transportation, as did many of her fellow black citizens.

Jim Crow Laws

The Jim Crow rules for the public bus system in Montgomery almost defy belief today. Black customers had to enter the bus at the front door, pay the fare, exit the front door and climb aboard again at the rear door. Even though the majority of bus passengers were black, the front four rows of seats were always reserved for white customers. Bennett wrote: It was a common sight in those days to see Black men and women standing in silence and silent fury over the four empty seats reserved for whites. Behind these seats was a middle section that blacks could use only if there was no white demand. However, if so much as one white customer needed a seat in this no-mans land, all the blacks in that section had to move. Bennett concluded: This was, as you can see, pure madness, and it caused no end of trouble and hard feeling. In fact, Rosa Parks herself was once thrown off a bus for refusing to endure the charade of entry by the back door. In the year preceding Mrs. Parkss fateful ride, three other black women had been arrested for refusing to give their seats to white men. Still the system was firmly entrenched, and Mrs. Parks would often walk to her home to spare herself the humiliation of the bus.

On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Parks had a particularly tiring day. She was employed as a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store, and she had spent the day pressing numerous pairs of pants. She has since admitted that her back and shoulders ached terribly that dayshe was forty-two at the timeand she deliberately let one full bus pass in order to find a seat on the next one. The seat she eventually found was in the middle section of the bus, because the back was filled. A few stops further down the line, a white man got on and demanded a seat. The driver ordered Parks and three other black customers to move. The other riders did as they were told, but Parks quietly refused to give up her place. The driver threatened to call the police. Parks said: Go ahead and call them

Bennett wrote: There then occurred one of those little vignettes that could have changed the course of history. The [police] officers asked the driver if he wanted to swear out a warrant or if he wanted them to let Rosa Parks go with a warning. The driver said he wanted to swear out a warrant, and this decision and the convergence of a number of historical forces sealed the death warrant of the Jim Crow South.

Parks was driven to the police station, booked, fingerprinted, and jailed. She was also photographed as she was being fingerprinted, a snapshot that has since found its way into history textbooks. Parks was granted one telephone call, and she used it to contact E. D. Nixon, a prominent member of Montgomerys NAACP chapter. Nixon was properly outraged, but he also sensed that in Rosa Parks his community might have the perfect individual to serve as a symbol of Southern injustice. Nixon called a liberal white lawyer, Clifford Durr, who agreed to represent Parks. After consulting with the attorney, her husband, and her mother, Rosa Parks agreed to undertake a court challenge of the segregationist law that had led to her arrest.

Rev. King Organized Bus Boycott

Word of Parkss arrest spread quickly through Montgomerys black community, and several influential black leaders decided the time was ripe to try a boycott of the public transportation system. One of these leaders, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., used the mimeograph machine at his Baptist church to make 7,000 copies of a leaflet advertising the boycott. The message of the leaflet was plain: Dont ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place Monday, December 5. If you work, take a cab, or share a ride, or walk.

The black boycott of Montgomerys city buses was almost universal on December 5, 1955. A meeting on the subject that evening drew an overflow crowd numbering in the thousands, and a decision was made to continue the boycott indefinitely. On Tuesday, December 6, Parks was found guilty of failure to comply with a city ordinance and fined $14. She and her attorney appealed the ruling while the boycott wore on. Ebony correspondent Roxanne Brown wrote: For 381 days, Blacks car-pooled and walked to work and church. Their unified effort not only helped put an end to Jim Crow sectioning on the buses, it was also financially devastating for the bus company. It was this monumental eventwatched by the worldthat triggered the modern-day Black Freedom Movement and made a living legend of Mrs. Parks.

It is not necessarily easy to be a living legend, however. Mrs. Parks and her family received numerous threats and almost constant telephone harassment. The strain actually caused Raymond Parks to suffer a nervous breakdown. In 1957, Rosa and Raymond Parks (and Rosas mother) moved north to Detroit, Michigan. If Rosa Parks was safer in Detroit, she was never quite allowed to recede into anonymity. As the years passed she was sought out repeatedly as a dignified spokesperson for the civil rights movement.

A number of universities have awarded her honorary degrees, and she earned a prestigious job on the staff of Detroit congressman John Conyers. In 1988, Roxanne Brown noted: Thirty-two years after she attracted international attention for sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mrs. Parkss ardent devotion to human rights still burns brightly, like a well-tended torch that ignites her spirit and calls her to service whenever she is needed.

Still Active in the Struggle

Age has not robbed Rosa Parks of her beauty and grace, nor has it restricted her travels and activities. She still makes some twenty-five to thirty personal appearances per year and is a vocal opponent of apartheid in South Africa. Her crowning achievement, however, is the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she founded in Detroit. The institute offers career training for 12- to 18-year-olds with special attention to education and motivation. Too many young people are not staying in school and taking advantage of the opportunities they have, Mrs. Parks told Ebony. Theyre not motivated to learn what is necessary to get the good positions, the good jobs, to go into business for themselves.

In February of 1990 Parks received yet another round of adulation as she was honored at Washingtons Kennedy Center on her seventy-seventh birthday. Tribute chairperson C. Delores Tucker praised Parks for her beautiful qualities of dignity and indomitable faith that with God nothing can stop us. In typical fashion, Parks received the tribute with all due modesty to this day she takes little credit for her role in the history of the civil rights movement. Asked to reveal the secret of her positive attitude, she told Ebony: I find that if Im thinking too much of my own problems, and the fact that at times things are not just like I want them to be, I dont make any progress at all. But if I look around and see what I can do, and go on with that, then I move on.

Sources

Books

Greenfield, Eloise, Rosa Parks, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973.

Periodicals

Ebony, August 1971; September 1977; February 1988.

Essence, May 1985.

Jet, March 5, 1990.

Ms., August 1974.

Newsweek, November 12, 1979.

Mark Kram

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Rosa Lee McCauley Parks

Rosa Lee McCauley Parks

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Lee Parks (née McCauley; born 1913) refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger on a racially segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus. She was arrested and fined but her action led to a successful boycott of the Montgomery buses by African American riders.

Born Rosa McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913, the young girl did not seem destined for fame. Her mother was a teacher and her father, a carpenter. When she was still young she moved with her mother and brother to Pine Level, Alabama, to live with her grandparents. A hard-working family, they were able to provide her with the necessities of life but few luxuries while attempting to shield her from the harsh realities of racial segregation. Rosa attended the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, graduated from the all-African American Booker T. Washington High School in 1928, and attended Alabama State College in Montgomery for a short time.

She married Raymond Parks, a barber, in 1932. Both Rosa and her husband were active in various civil rights causes, such as voter registration. Parks worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council and in 1943 was elected to serve as the secretary of the Montgomery branch. This group worked to dismantle the barriers of racial segregation in education and public accommodations but made little progress during the 1940s and early 1950s. In the summer of 1955 white friends paid Parks' expenses for a two-week interracial seminar at Tennessee's Highlander Folk School, a program designed to help people to train for civil rights activism.

Parks worked at various jobs over the years—as a housekeeper, an insurance saleswoman, and a seamstress. In 1955, while working at Montgomery Fair department store as a tailor's assistant, she discovered her name in the headlines. On the fateful night of December 1st, she was very tired as she headed for her bus, but had no plans for initiating a protest. According to the segregation laws in Montgomery, white passengers were given the front seats on the bus. Even if no white riders boarded, African Americans were not allowed to sit in those seats. If white passengers filled their allotted seats, African American riders—who had to pay the same amount of bus fare—had to give their seats to the whites. All of the bus drivers were instructed to have African Americans who disobeyed the rules removed from the bus, arrested, and fined. Some of the bus drivers demanded that African Americans pay their fares up front, get off the bus, and reenter through the back doors so that they would not pass by the seats of white patrons.

On December 1, 1955, Parks, who had taken a seat directly behind the white section, was asked to yield her seat to white passengers. Parks recognized the driver as one who had evicted her from a bus 12 years before when she refused to reenter through the back door after paying her fare. The bus driver threatened to have her arrested but she remained where she was. He then stopped the bus, brought in some policemen, and had Parks taken to police headquarters.

Certainly her case was not a unique; African Americans had been arrested for disobeying the segregation laws many times before. However, in 1954 the Supreme Court had rendered an important decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which held that educational segregation was inherently illegal. The decision encouraged African Americans to fight more boldly for the end of racial segregation in every area of American life. Thus, NAACP officials and Montgomery church leaders decided that Parks' arrest could provide the necessary impetus for a successful bus boycott. They asked Montgomery's African American riders—who comprised over 70 percent of the bus company's business—to stop riding the buses until the company was willing to revise its policies toward African American riders and hire African American bus drivers.

Meeting at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the ministers and their congregations formed the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected the young Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as president. The boycott was extremely successful, lasting over 380 days. When the case was taken to the Supreme Court, the Justices declared that segregation of the Montgomery buses was illegal and officially desegregated them on December 20, 1956.

Parks and some of her family members, fired by their employers or continually harassed by angry whites, decided in 1957 to move to Detroit, Michigan. There they had a great deal of difficulty finding jobs, but Parks was finally employed by John Conyers, an African American member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She served as his receptionist and then staff assistant for 25 years while continuing her work with the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and serving as a deaconess at the Saint Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Parks received numerous awards, including an honorary degree from Shaw College in Detroit, the 1979 NAACP Spingarn Medal, and an annual Freedom Award presented in her honor by the SCLC. In 1980 she was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize and in 1984 the Eleanor Roosevelt Women of Courage Award. In 1988 she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, to train African American youth for leadership roles, and began serving as the institute's president. In 1989 her accomplishments were honored at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Parks was in demand as a public speaker and traveled extensively to discuss her role in the civil rights movement.

In September 1994 Parks was beaten and robbed in her Detroit home. She fully recovered from this incident and remained active in African American issues. In October 1995 she participated in the Million Man March in Washington D.C., giving an inspirational speech.

Fellow civil rights leaders, friends, and family of Parks, expressed concern about her demanding schedule and finances in September 1997. They were unable to get answers from Parks' attorney, Gregory Reed, and personal assistant, Elaine Steele, who together had formed The Parks Legacy, a corporation that controlled the public property rights to Parks' image. According to court records, the "selling" of Parks included fees for autographs and pictures of the civil rights legend, her appearance in a rock video, and her image on a phone-calling card. An article in the Detroit News noted, "Civil rights leaders and marketing experts fear the products cheapen Parks' image and legacy as the mother of the civil rights movement."

Further Reading

Virtually no history of the modern civil rights movement in the United States fails to mention the role of Rosa Parks. She tells her own story in The Autobiography of Rosa Parks (1990). Others relate her history in a book entitled Don't Ride the Bus on Monday by Louise Meriwether (1973) and in two children's books, one by Eloise Greenfield, Rosa Parks (1973) and another by Kai Friese, Rosa Parks (1990). Among several interesting works specifically relating to the boycott is Jo Ann Robinson's The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It (1987). Also see the Detroit News (August 29, 1997, and September 28, 1997). □

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Parks, Rosa Louise

Rosa Louise Parks, 1913–2005, American civil-rights activist, b. Tuskegee, Ala., as Rosa Louise McCauley. A seamstress and long-time activist-member of the Montgomery, Ala., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her Dec. 1, 1955, arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a municipal bus to a white man sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. This successful protest, which lasted just over a year, marked the emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr., to national prominence as a civil-rights leader and provided the model for future nonviolent movement actions. Fired from her job and unable to find work, Parks moved in 1957 to Detroit, where she remained active in the civil-rights movement and worked (1965–88) as an aide to Congressman John Conyers. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest honor, in 1999.

See her autobiography (1992); biography by D. Brinkley (2000) and J. Theoharis (2013).

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Parks, Rosa

Parks, Rosa

February 4, 1913


Civil rights leader Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. She lived with relatives in Montgomery, where she finished high school in 1933 and attended Alabama State College. She met her husband, Raymond Parks, a barber, and they married in 1932. Rosa Parks worked as a clerk, an insurance salesperson, and a tailor's assistant at a department store. She was also employed at the time as a part-time seamstress by Virginia and Clifford Durr, two white residents of Montgomery who were staunch supporters of the black freedom struggle.

Parks had been active in civil rights work since the 1930s. She and her husband supported the Scottsboro defendants, a notorious case in which nine young black men were convicted in 1931 on questionable evidence of raping two white women. In 1943 Parks became one of the first women to join the Montgomery NAACP. She worked as a youth adviser, served as secretary for the local group from 1943 to 1956, and helped operate the joint office of the NAACP and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In addition, she worked with the Montgomery Voters League to increase black voter registration. During the summer of 1955, with the encouragement of the Durrs, Parks accepted a scholarship for a workshop for community leaders on school integration at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. It was an important experience for Parks, not only for the practical skills of organizing and mobilizing she learned but because the racial harmony she experienced there nurtured and sustained her activism.

Popularly known as the mother of the civil rights movement, Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat for a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery on December 1, 1955, an incident that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. Contrary to popular belief, Parks was not simply a tired woman who wanted to rest her feet, unaware of the chain of events she was about to trigger. As she wrote in Rosa Parks: My Story (1992), "the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." Parks was a veteran of civil rights activity and was aware of efforts by the Women's Political Council and the local NAACP to find an incident with which they could address segregation in Montgomery.

Parks was actively involved in sustaining the boycott and for a time served on the executive committee of the Montgomery Improvement Association, an organization created to direct the boycott. The intransigence of the city council was met by conviction and fortitude on the part of African Americans. For over a year, black people in Montgomery carpooled, took taxis, and walked to work. The result was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional.

As a result of her involvement in the bus boycott, Parks lost her job at the department store in Montgomery. In 1957 she and her husband moved to Detroit, where she worked as a seamstress for eight years before becoming administrative assistant for Congressman John Conyers, a position she held until 1988. After she moved to Detroit, Parks continued to be active in the civil rights movement and joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She participated in numerous marches and rallies, including the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.

In the mid-1980s Parks supported the Free South Africa movement and walked the picket lines in Washington, D.C., with other anti-apartheid activists. She has made countless public appearances, speaking out on political issues as well as giving oral history lessons about the civil rights movement. In 1987, ten years after the death of her husband, she cofounded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in Detroit, a center committed to career training for black youth. The institute, a dream of hers, was created to address the dropout rate of black youth.

Parks, an international symbol of African-American strength, has been given numerous awards and distinctions, including ten honorary degrees. In 1979 she was awarded the NAACP's prestigious Spingarn Medal. In 1980 she was chosen by Ebony readers as the living black woman who had done the most to advance the cause of black America. In the same year she was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In addition, the SCLC has honored her by sponsoring the annual Rosa Parks Freedom award.

During the 1990s Parks assumed an increasing role as African-American elder statesperson. She wrote three books, including an autobiography and a book of letters that were written to her from children around the world. In 1996, though confined to a wheelchair, she spoke at the Million Man March. In July 1999 the U.S. Congress awarded Parks the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the nation's highest civilian award. Parks's legacy lives on in Troy State University in Montgomery, Alabama, where a library and museum were dedicated in her name in 2000. One year later the Rosa Parks Initiative began in Detroit, with a goal to build an $8 million monument, complete with one million roses and an interactive history of the civil rights movement, in Detroit's Belle Isle Park.

In 1999 Parks initiated a lawsuit against hip-hop duo Outkast. After first being dismissed by a federal judge, an appeals court allowed Parks to proceed with the lawsuit, in which she claimed that Outkast used her name without permission on a 1998 track. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer was appointed by a federal judge to serve as a temporary, independent guardian for Parks in 2004, to ensure that Parks, suffering from dementia, was fairly represented in such matters of litigation.

See also Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Montgomery Improvement Association; Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

Bibliography

Brown, Roxanne. "Mother of the Movement." Ebony (February 1988): 6872.

Garrow, David, ed. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

Parks, Rosa. Rosa Parks: My Story. New York: Dial Books, 1992.

Parks, Rosa. Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

Parks, Rosa. Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth. New York: Lee & Low Books, 1996.

premilla nadasen (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Parks, Rosa

Rosa Parks

BORN: February 4, 1913 • Tuskegee, Alabama

DIED: October 24, 2005 • Detroit, Michigan

American civil rights activist

By not giving up her bus seat to a white man on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks's quiet defiance triggered the escalation of a major social movement by black Americans seeking equality under the law. Parks, a reserved, hardworking black woman, became one of the great contributors to the growing Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. The Civil Rights Movement was a largely nonviolent struggle between 1945 and 1970 by black Americans who sought to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all black Americans. Civil rights are the protections and privileges that law gives to all citizens in a society, such as the right to a fair trial, freedom from discrimination (treating some people differently than others or favoring one social group over another based on prejudices), right to privacy, right to peaceful protest, right to vote, and freedom of movement. The movement eventually ended legally enforced racial segregation (keeping races separate, such as in public places) in the South in the

"I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people."

1960s, though discrimination continued to be a major factor in everyday life. Parks herself remained active in her fight against racial prejudice (a negative attitude towards others based on a prejudgment about those individuals with no prior knowledge or experience) into the twenty-first century. She was a worldwide symbol of freedom and social justice.

Growing up in the South

Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her father, James McCauley, was a carpenter and her mother, Leona McCauley, a teacher. Her parents soon separated as James was eager to find greater opportunities in the North. Rosa, along with her mother and younger brother, Sylvester, moved to her grandparents' farm in Pine Level, Alabama, 30 miles south of Montgomery. There she grew up in a rural southern setting with her mother the only teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.

Rosa experienced the daily consequences of laws designed to keep blacks separate from whites in public. Known as Jim Crow laws, the state and local governments in the South passed numerous laws and ordinances since the 1890s, enforcing racial segregation. Hostility by whites toward blacks was severe. Rosa later remembered lying in bed hearing the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist terrorist organization, riding by in the dark of night. She also heard stories of lynching (killing by mob action, as by hanging or burning) in the area.

Leona sent Rosa at age eleven to Montgomery to live with a widowed aunt so she could enroll in a private school for black youth, the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. Founded by liberal-minded (not tied to traditional social roles) women from the North and partly supported by the Congregational Church, the school introduced Rosa to philosophies of self-worth along with strict discipline. Parks cleaned the classrooms in the school to help pay her tuition. The school also taught Rosa to take advantage of the few opportunities that come along for a black woman in American society. Rosa next attended classes at Alabama State Teachers College, later renamed Alabama State University, but left before graduating to get married.

Settling into Montgomery

In 1932, at the age of nineteen, Rosa married Raymond Parks. They settled in Montgomery, Alabama. Raymond had been an orphan and trained as a barber. He worked at the Atlas Barber Shop while Rosa worked at various jobs as a file clerk, insurance saleswoman, and seamstress. With both of them employed, they enjoyed a modest level of prosperity.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is one of the oldest and most influential organizations dedicated to eliminating racial and other forms of prejudice. The organization has always emphasized combating the many outcomes of prejudice, such as discrimination and violence, by providing legal services in key court cases and lobbying, or petitioning, legislatures including the U.S. Congress for stronger laws recognizing equality. Discrimination in employment, education, and healthcare has been a frequent issue addressed.

The NAACP grew out of efforts by thirty-two prominent black Americans who began meeting in 1905 to take action against the many challenges facing people of color. The group had to first meet in Canada, near the U.S. border, because of racial segregation at American hotels. Harvard scholar W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963) and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931) played key roles in the founding. The American Jewish community also provided significant financial assistance.

The first decades of the NAACP were spent fighting the Jim Crow laws of the South, which enforced racial segregation in society, and lobbying for anti-lynching laws. The organization was unsuccessful throughout the 1930s in gaining passage of anti-lynching legislation. Successes in fighting segregation were slow but steady until they finally reached the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which ended state-sponsored racial segregation in public elementary schools. The success in Brown spurred further efforts to end segregation. These efforts included the Montgomery bus boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks for not giving up her bus seat to a white man.

While other black organizations throughout the late 1950s and 1960s emphasized more direct action against discrimination and segregation—such as public protests and marches—the NAACP maintained its focus on legislation and court battles.

The NAACP's national office in the early twenty-first century was located in Baltimore, Maryland, with seven branch offices situated from New York to California. In 2004, the organization had approximately 500,000 members.

Both Rosa and Raymond were also active in civil rights work all of their adult lives, and sought to improve life for blacks in the South. They both joined the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP; see box). Rosa was one of the first women to join the Montgomery chapter. During the 1930s, Raymond volunteered his time to help the legal defense of nine young black men charged with the rape of two white women based on hearsay, or word of mouth, and no evidence. The case became infamous (well known in a negative way) with the black youth becoming known collectively as the Scottsboro defendants (despite lack of evidence and a good defense, the defendants were found guilty by an all-white jury). Rosa was youth adviser for the Montgomery NAACP and worked as the chapter's secretary from 1943 until 1956. Rosa was also active in the Montgomery Voters League, dedicated to increasing black voter registration, worked with the black labor union Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and did volunteer work for the African Methodist Episcopal church.

Parks persistently fought the Jim Crow laws of the South. In mid-1955, Parks received financial assistance to attend a workshop at an education center in Tennessee known as the Highlander Folk School. The workshop taught skills in organizing and mobilizing black citizens to fight for workers' rights in labor unions and racial equality, including school integration. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Bus rules

Parks passionately disliked the Montgomery city bus system and the Jim Crow laws and rules of behavior that applied. For example, blacks were often required to first step on board and pay their fare at the front of the bus, then get back off and go to the door near the rear to board for their seat. Sometimes the white bus driver would pull away before they could get back on. Once Parks refused to get off the bus after paying her fare and go to the rear door. The driver threw her off the bus. After the Brown decision, blacks were no longer willing to tolerate segregation on the buses and became increasingly frustrated with the slow changes.

According to other city bus rules, the front several rows on a bus were reserved for whites. Blacks could not sit in them, even if the section was empty and the black section was standing room only. If the white section was full, then whites could request that blacks seated in the "colored" section get up and move further toward the back. That would not only include the person sitting in the seat desired, but others in that row as well.

The NAACP, along with the Women's Political Council (WPC), had tried working with the city bus company to improve treatment of blacks, but with little success. By 1955, the NAACP was looking for an incident that could be used to legally challenge the bus rules. In March 1955, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin, a high school student in Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white passenger. After consideration, the NAACP decided not to take the case because they feared the teenager would not be mentally strong enough to withstand the controversy and personal attacks that would accompany the lawsuit challenging segregationist policies.

The fateful challenge

On December 1, 1955, forty-two-year-old Parks boarded a city bus at the end of a day's work as a seamstress at Montgomery Fair department store. Carrying a bag of groceries, she sat in the colored section immediately behind the full white section. A white man boarded the bus and approached Parks, asking that she give her seat to him, a move that would require the other three black passengers on that row to move as well. Tired of the constant humiliation at the hands of whites, Parks refused to obey, although the others got up and moved. The bus driver next ordered her to move to the back of the bus, but she still refused.

The police were called and took Parks to the police station. She was booked, fingerprinted, and jailed. They charged her with disorderly conduct for violating a city bus ordinance. Allowed one phone call, Parks called E. D. Nixon, leader of the Montgomery NAACP, and informed him of her arrest. Nixon notified the WPC and word of Parks's arrest spread quickly through the Montgomery black community. A meeting of fifty local black leaders was called for the following night. Participants at the meeting formed the Montgomery Improvement Association led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Parks was named to the executive committee of the organization. The organization called for blacks to boycott the city buses on December 5. Since approximately 70 percent of the people who rode the city buses were black, this action posed a great financial threat to the bus company. Around forty-two thousand blacks car-pooled, rode taxis driven by black cabbies who only charged bus rates, or walked instead.

A legal landmark

After her arrest Parks lost her job at the department store. Parks was found guilty on December 6 and fined fourteen dollars. The Improvement Association called for the bus boycott to continue indefinitely. The bus boycott sparked further protests against racial segregation in other parts of the South and the Civil Rights Movement received a great boost. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on November 13 that city bus segregation was unconstitutional. The Montgomery boycott lasted 382 days until December 20, 1956, when the city ended its segregationist rules in response to the Court decision. The boycott was financially devastating to the bus company which resisted changing its rules until forced by the Court ruling.

The NAACP leaders decided that Parks would be an excellent defendant, perhaps because she was so familiar with NAACP activities and because of her history of social activism. After discussing it with her husband and mother, Parks agreed to accept the NAACP's assistance in challenging her conviction. White lawyer Clifford Durr, an outspoken critic of racial prejudice, took the case for the NAACP. Parks had at times worked for Durr and his wife, Virginia, as a part-time seamstress.

A lower court overturned Parks's conviction and the law that it was based on. The city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In November 1956, the Court upheld the lower court's decision that the Montgomery city ordinance was unconstitutional (conflicts with a nation's constitution). The decision outlawed racial segregation in public transportation, marking yet another major setback for Jim Crow laws.

Move to Michigan

Because of her defiant actions, Parks and her family faced continuous threats during this time period. Eventually, her husband Raymond suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1957, with her legal case freshly resolved, Parks, her husband, and her mother moved to Detroit, Michigan, to start a new life and be closer to her brother. Parks worked as a seamstress there for eight years. Then from 1965 to 1988, she served as an administrative assistant on the congressional staff of U.S. Representative John Conyers (1929–). She also remained active in the NAACP and joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization formed in 1957 following the successful Montgomery bus boycott to promote nonviolent civil disobedience of unjust laws. Parks took part in marches and rallies in support of civil rights issues, including the famous 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery in protest of racial barriers to black voting rights. She also supported the end of apartheid (separateness of races by minority white government) in South Africa in the 1980s.

Ten years after Raymond's death, Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of Self Development in 1987 in Detroit. The Institute promotes education and career training for black youth. Among its activities was a summer program for youth called "Pathways to Freedom." The participating youth toured the country in buses learning about the nation's history and particularly the civil rights movement. They visited locations of critical events in the movement's history. Parks frequently joined the tours.

Highly recognized

Known for her grace and dignity in her fight against racial prejudice, Parks received numerous honors and traveled extensively, meeting various world leaders. Detroit renamed Twelfth Street in 1969 in her honor, now called Rosa Parks Boulevard. In 1980, readers of Ebony magazine (founded in 1945, one of America's oldest African American periodicals) chose Parks as the woman who had accomplished the most in advancing the black cause in the United States. She received at least ten honorary college degrees. The SCLC established an annual Rosa Parks Freedom Award named in her honor. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Alabama Academy of Honor in September 1999. In February 1990, on her seventy-seventh birthday, Parks was honored at Washington's Kennedy Center by a gala event.

Parks received the Medal of Freedom award from President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001) in 1996. She also received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in July 1999, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum was dedicated in November 2001 at Troy State University in Montgomery. In January 2002, Parks's former home in Alabama was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Parks wrote of her experiences. She published an autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, in 1992 and a book, Quiet Strength, in 1994. In 2002, the CBS television network released a movie made for television that directly involved Parks in its production titled The Rosa Parks Story starring actress Angela Bassett.

Not all experiences in the 1990s were good for Parks. In 1994, twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Skipper, a young black man, broke into her home and attacked Parks, stealing $53 in cash. He was caught the next day. The public was outraged by the attack on such a highly respected and elderly woman. Parks lamented that social conditions would be such that youth would beat up elderly women for modest sums of money.

In the early twenty-first century, Parks still lived much of the year in Detroit but spent winters in Los Angeles. She remained active in the civil rights causes. The actual bus she boarded on December 1, 1955, became a permanent exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.

Parks died in October 2005 at her Detroit home of natural causes. Her death attracted considerable national attention in recognition of the central role she played in changing American society. Parks was only the twenty-ninth person and the first woman to lie in honor in the rotunda of the nation's Capitol building as thousands strolled by her casket to pay respects. The cities of Detroit and Montgomery reserved the front row seats of their buses in tribute to Parks following her death until her funeral.

For More Information

BOOKS

Brinkley, Douglas. Rosa Parks. New York: Viking, 2000.

Greenfield, Eloise. Rosa Parks. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper, 1958.

Miller, Jake. The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Integrating Public. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2004.

Parks, Rosa. Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

WEB SITES

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). http://www.naacp.org/ (accessed on December 11, 2006).

Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. http://www.rosaparks.org/ (accessed on December 11, 2006).

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Parks, Rosa

Rosa Parks

Born Rosa Louise McCauley, February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, AL; died of natural causes, October 24, 2005, in Detroit, MI. Civil rights activist. Rosa Parks was best known for her act of civil disobedience in December of 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to white man in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest led to a Supreme Court decision that segregation on such forms of public transportation was illegal, sparking the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Parks was regarded as a hero and spent the whole of her life as a face of the movement. Upon her death Rev. Jesse Jackson told E.R. Shipp of the New York Times, "She sat down in order that we might stand up. Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors for our long journey to freedom."

Parks was the first of two children born to James and Leona (Edwards) McCauley. Her parents were farmers who held other jobs as well. Her father worked as a carpenter while her mother was also a teacher. An ill child, Parks' parents separated when she was young and her mother raised her and her brother on her maternal grandparents' farm in Pine Level, Alabama. Parks received her early education at a blacks-only one-room schoolhouse where classes were only held for five months a year so that students could work the fields. Violence against African Americans, including lynchings and burnings, was a part of her life, as the Ku Klux Klan was active in the area.

An aunt lived in Montgomery, Alabama, where Parks began attending schools at the age of eleven. Though she attended Miss White's School for Girls in Montgomery as well as the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, Parks' education at the Alabama State Teachers College was cut short when she left school at 16 to take care of her ailing grandmother. To help support her family, she learned how to type and took in sewing.

In 1932, Parks married Raymond Parks, a barber, who was active in the Civil Rights movement. Parks became politically active as well. She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was serving as the secretary of the chapter in Montgomery, Alabama, by 1943. As a member of the Montgomery Voters' League, Parks also helped blacks pass the tests needed for them to register to vote. It took her three attempts to pass the test herself.

By the mid-1950s, Parks was working as a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store and as a housekeeper for a white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The 1955 incident which pushed the Civil Rights movement forward was born of Parks' own fatigue from the racial segregation she faced in daily life in Alabama using black-only elevators, water fountains, and schools. It also showed the power of non-violent action and made her a national figure. Parks was chosen to be a symbol for the cause because she was a model citizen in Montgomery.

After refusing to give up her seat on that December day coming home from work, Parks was taken into custody and fined $14. She was eventually convicted of violating segregation laws, but did not accept the situation. With the guidance of civil rights lawyers, she helped challenge the laws which allowed such segregation. The incident sparked a 13-month boycott of the buses in Montgomery by African Americans organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association. In 1956, the Supreme Court declared this type of segregation illegal.

While Parks' arrest and the subsequent case were of importance nationally and historically, the incident and its aftermath had a negative affect on her immediate life. She was dismissed from her job, received threats, and was hassled as were many who supported the bus boycott and the Civil Rights movement. Her health was also negatively affected. In addition, Parks had some disagreements with leaders of the movement in Montgomery including King. In 1957, she and her husband left Alabama and moved first to Virginia and later to Detroit, Michigan, with Parks' mother.

In Detroit, Parks supported herself again first by doing sewing in her home for a number of years. In 1965, Parks was hired by John Conyers, a Detroit-area Congressman, to be his aide, a position she held until 1988. As Parks became regarded as an important, inspirational figure in the civil rights movement, she used her position to raise funds for the NAACP and continue to push for greater racial equality.

In 1987, Parks co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The group sponsored several programs to educate about the Civil Rights Movement. Despite her fame, she still suffered. In 1994, she was mugged by a 28-year-old man for $53 in her own home. Despite such setbacks, Parks received many honors for her life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1999.

By 2002, Parks was suffering from dementia and faced some financial difficulties. Parks could not pay her rent and relied on a local church to cover the costs for a time. Such problems did not change her importance. Conyers told Patricia Sullivan of the Washington Post upon Parks' death, "There are very few people who can say their actions and conduct changed the face of the nation, and Rosa Parks is one of those individuals." Parks died on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92. As her husband died in 1977 and the marriage was childless, she has no survivors in her immediate family.

Sources:

CNN. com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/10/25/parks.obit/index.html (October 25, 2005); Economist (U.S.), October 29, 2005, p. 90; Independent (London), October 26, 2005, p. 36; New York Times, October 25, 2005, p. A1; People, November 7, 2005, pp. 72-74; Washington Post, October 25, 2005, p. A1.

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Parks, Rosa

Rosa Parks

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a racially segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama . Her simple action led to the successful Montgomery bus boycott by African American riders that forced the city to desegregate its bus system.

Parks was born Rosa McCauley on February 4, 1913. For most of her childhood, she lived with her mother, brother, and grandparents in Pine Level, Alabama. Her mother and grandparents worked hard to provide her with the necessities of life while attempting to shield her from the harsh realities of racial segregation . Parks attended the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, graduated from the all-black Booker T. Washington High School in 1928, and attended Alabama State Teachers College in Montgomery for a short time.

Active in the early civil rights movement

In 1943, Parks became one of the first women to join the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She worked as a youth adviser and served as secretary for the local group from 1943 to 1956. In addition, she worked with the Montgomery Voters League to increase black voter registration. During the summer of 1955, Parks accepted a scholarship for a workshop for community leaders on school integration at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee . It was an important experience for Parks. She learned the practical skills of organizing and mobilizing and experienced harmony among blacks and whites that motivated her activism for years to come.

December 1, 1955

City buses in Montgomery were segregated in the 1950s. White passengers were given the front seats. Even if no white riders boarded, African Americans were not allowed to sit in those seats. If white passengers filled their allotted seats, black riders—who had to pay the same amount of bus fare—had to give their seats to the whites. Bus drivers were instructed to have African Americans who disobeyed the rules arrested and fined.

Parks was working at a department store as a tailor's assistant in 1955 and took the bus home from work, as usual, on the night of December 1. She took a seat directly behind the white section. When the white section filled, she was asked to yield her seat to a white passenger. Parks refused. The bus driver threatened to have her arrested but she remained where she was. He stopped the bus and Parks was arrested.

The boycott

Certainly Parks's case was not unique; African Americans had been arrested for disobeying the segregation laws many times before. However, the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education , which ruled that segregation in public schools was illegal, had encouraged African Americans to fight more boldly for the end of racial segregation in every area of American life. Parks, who was active in the civil rights movement , knew that her action on the bus could be the start of a protest movement in Montgomery. Indeed, when news of Parks's arrest spread, NAACP officials and Montgomery church leaders quickly decided it was time to take action. They asked Montgomery's black riders—who comprised over 70 percent of the bus company's business—to stop riding the buses until the company revised its policies toward African American riders.

Meeting at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Montgomery ministers and their congregations formed the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected the young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) as president. Parks was actively involved in sustaining the boycott and for a time served on the executive committee of the Montgomery Improvement Association. For over a year, black people in Montgomery carpooled, took taxis, and walked to work. The boycott hurt the bus companies financially, brought the nation's attention to the problem of segregation, and resulted in a ruling by the Supreme Court that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional. It was one of the early successes in the African American civil rights movement, encouraging the nonviolent protest movement that followed.

Life in Detroit

Parks lost her job as a result of the boycott and moved to Detroit, Michigan , in 1957. There, John Conyers (1929–), an African American member of the U.S. House of Representatives, employed her as his receptionist and then staff assistant for twenty-five years. She continued her work with the NAACP and another civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also served as a deaconess at the Saint Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church. She participated in numerous marches and rallies, including the 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches .

Parks became known as the mother of the civil rights movement. She won many awards, including, in 1999, the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor. In December 2000, the 50,000-square-foot Rosa Parks Library and Museum, featuring a life-size bronze sculpture of Parks, opened in Montgomery.

Parks died at the age of ninety-two in Detroit. The cities of Montgomery and Detroit both honored her passing by reserving the front seats of the city buses with black ribbons. Her casket was taken by city bus to Washington, D.C. , where it lay in state in the Capitol. More than fifty thousand people lined up to view the casket. Thousands more showed up to honor her funeral procession in Detroit.

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Parks, Rosa Louise

Parks, Rosa Louise

(b. 4 February 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama; d. 24 October 2005 in Detroit, Michigan), civil rights activist whose refusal in December 1955 to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus set off a nonviolent bus boycott that became a milestone in the history of the civil rights movement.

Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley. She was the daughter of James McCauley, a carpenter and stonemason, and Leona (Edwards) McCauley, a schoolteacher. Like her father and mother, she had a light tan complexion. In 1915, the year her brother and only sibling was born, economic hardship forced the family to move from Tuskegee to Abbeville, Alabama, where they lived with her father’s parents. Within months, however, Leona McCauley moved with the two children to her own parents’ farm in Pine Level, Alabama. Parks grew up there and had virtually no contact with her father, who took little interest in his family. She received her first education at a local school in Pine Level. Parks then was enrolled at a series of schools in nearby Montgomery, Alabama. In 1924 she began attending the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a white-led institution that emphasized domestic sciences and Christian principles. Four years later, after the school was forced to close, she attended Booker T. Washington Junior High School and then the laboratory school at Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes, where she completed the eleventh grade. Parks was an attentive student and intended to follow in her mother’s footsteps, but she had to shelve her plans to care for her ill grandmother.

After the death of her grandmother in 1929, Parks returned to Montgomery to take a job at a local textile factory but had to quit to care for her ill mother. While nursing her mother and working as a maid, she became a devoted member of Montgomery’s Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. When she was eighteen she fell in love with Raymond Parks, a barber and civil rights activist who had cofounded a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Montgomery. Even before the couple was married on 18 December 1932, Raymond urged her to go back to school for her high school diploma. Parks finally received her diploma in 1933, but job opportunities remained scarce. After a brief stint as a nurse’s assistant at Montgomery’s Saint Margaret Hospital, she secured a position as a secretary at the nearby Maxwell Air Force Base.

Parks’s career as a civil rights activist began during World War II. On the Maxwell Air Force Base, public facilities and buses were already integrated, and her experience of racial integration there, together with the fact that her brother remained disenfranchised despite his military service for his country, prompted her to join the NAACP in December 1943. Parks was one among very few female members of the Montgomery NAACP and worked as the chapter’s secretary, keeping records, writing letters, and researching incidents of racial discrimination. Early on Parks made strong efforts to attain full citizenship rights. Between 1943 and 1944 she twice attempted to register to vote but allegedly failed the required literacy test, a device that was traditionally used by white registrars to disenfranchise African Americans.

Even before Parks joined the NAACP, the delicate and soft-spoken activist had engaged in civil disobedience to protest against racial discrimination. In November 1943 she defied the orders of the white bus driver James F. Blake to board through the back door after paying her fare at the front. Parks left the bus rather than comply with segregation. After this encounter, she deliberately avoided boarding buses that were driven by Blake. In April 1945 her perseverance as an activist bore first tangible results. After taking a literacy test for the third time, Parks finally became a registered voter. Throughout the 1940s she continued to be actively involved in the activities of the NAACP, attending leadership seminars outside Alabama and advising the youth group of the Montgomery chapter.

In May 1949 Parks resigned as the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP to care for her ill mother, but she continued to do office work for the local civil rights leader E. D. Nixon. By that time, she worked as an assistant tailor at the Montgomery Fair department store. In 1952 Parks resumed her responsibilities as the secretary of the local NAACP chapter. During her travails to supplement her family’s meager income by taking additional part-time jobs as a domestic seamstress and as a housekeeper for white families, she met Clifford and Virginia Foster Durr, a white liberal couple who supported the civil rights struggle. Between 1954 and 1955, the period Parks worked for the Durrs, Virginia Foster Durr became Parks’s friend and mentor, discussing with her strategies for combating discrimination and helping her attend a leadership seminar at the Highlander Folk School, an integrated forum for civil rights and labor activists in Monteagle, Tennessee.

In December 1955 Parks’s deliberate noncooperation with segregation set off a sustained protest movement against racial discrimination in public transportation. Nixon and other local civil rights activists had long considered organizing a bus boycott to change the discriminatory seating arrangement of the city’s bus line. As early as May 1954, Jo Ann Robinson, the president of the black Women’s Political Council, had written a letter to Mayor W. A. Gayle threatening a boycott if the city refused to alter the unfair custom. What the activists needed, however, was a legal test case that would allow them to attack bus segregation in federal court. Parks’s act of civil disobedience on 1 December 1955 became the hoped-for test case. On that day Parks accidentally boarded a bus driven by Blake, the same driver who had intimidated her in 1943. When ordered by Blake to vacate her seat for a white passenger, Parks refused and was arrested for violating Alabama’s segregation laws. In part, her protest was a consequence of her personal dislike of Blake. More important, however, as she wrote in her memoirs, Parks “was tired of giving in.” Consequently, she quickly agreed when asked by Nixon whether she would be willing to let civil rights activists use her case to launch an attack on bus segregation in Montgomery.

During the successful 381-day bus boycott that began days after her arrest, Parks braved the consequences of her courageous stand. In January 1956 she lost her job as a full-time seamstress and was subsequently forced to rely on part-time employment. When her husband quit his job as a barber at Maxwell Air Force Base to protest his boss’s order not to discuss the boycott at work, Parks, her mother, and her husband struggled to pay for living expenses and the rent, which had been raised by their white landlord. In addition, Parks received numerous death threats from white segregationists. Despite racist intimidation, she worked as a dispatcher for the car pool system that had been created by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which had been formed to coordinate the boycott.

In the spring of 1956 Parks traveled extensively, supporting the young boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and other MIA officers in their efforts to raise funds for the local freedom movement. Although thousands of African Americans celebrated Parks as a heroine when she spoke at rallies in New York City, Detroit, and San Francisco, she increasingly stood in King’s shadow. This growing neglect of Parks’s activism became even more apparent after the U.S. Supreme Court declared Alabama’s bus segregation laws unconstitutional in November 1956. On 21 December 1956, when Montgomery’s buses were finally integrated, neither the MIA nor the media invited Parks to join King and other leaders to be photographed while boarding the first desegregated bus. A Look magazine reporter eventually photographed Parks that day, but male civil rights leaders seemed uninterested in giving official recognition to her role in the historic boycott. The Montgomery movement inspired dozens of similar boycotts across the South and strengthened the resolve of King and other civil rights activists to build the nonviolent mass movement that ultimately succeeded in ending legally sanctioned racial discrimination in the United States.

Parks’s activism eventually forced her to leave Montgomery. After the integration of the city’s bus line, she continued to receive death threats from the white community. In addition, no white employer was willing to hire Parks or her husband. The NAACP activist also faced growing resentment from local African Americans, many of whom were jealous of the media attention she had received during the boycott. In August 1957 Parks, her husband, and her mother moved to Detroit, where her brother lived with his wife and thirteen children. In early 1958, struggling financially in their new home, she accepted a job as a hostess at Hampton Institute in Virginia but returned to Detroit within a year. Parks then began to work as a seamstress at the Stockton Sewing Company, where she stayed until 1964.

Meanwhile, Parks continued to be involved in the civil rights struggle and became active in political volunteer work in Detroit. As an honorary member of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), she attended many civil rights conventions and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. One year later Parks volunteered to support the bid of John Conyers, a black Democrat, for Michigan’s First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Conyers won the election and hired her as a receptionist and administrative assistant for his Detroit office in 1965. That same year, Parks participated in SCLC’s Selma-to-Montgomery march, a non-violent protest campaign for federal voting rights legislation for African Americans in Alabama. Despite having become a symbol of nonviolent integration by the time of the Selma demonstration, Parks embraced certain aspects of the emerging Black Power movement. She was an admirer of black militants such as Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams and supported their calls for black pride and self-defense against white aggression. Nevertheless, Parks continued to support the nonviolent civil rights movement and condemned the race riots that rocked dozens of American cities after King was assassinated in April 1968.

Neither the demise of the black freedom movement nor her deteriorating health stifled Parks’s social activism. After the deaths of her husband, brother, and mother in the late 1970s, she supported the growing anti-apartheid movement and then turned her attention to the plight of poor and underprivileged teenagers. In 1987 Parks, assisted by her close friend Elaine Eason Steele, founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in Detroit to help such teenagers develop their potential for leadership. After 1988, when she received a pacemaker and resigned from Conyers’s political staff, Parks continued to plan and conduct programs for her educational institute. Two publications grew out of this work. Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation (1994), written with Gregory J. Reed, is a book of inspirational stories and prayers intended to provide teenage audiences with guidance for their lives. Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth (1996), also written with Reed, is a collection of Parks’s responses to the thousands of letters she received from children.

In 1994 the aging activist briefly received renewed media attention when she was robbed and beaten by a young man in her apartment on Detroit’s west side. One year later, despite suffering from dementia, she addressed the Million Man March, an all-black demonstration organized by the black nationalist Louis Farrakhan. Although she struggled with health problems in the following years, Parks continued to travel to address national and international audiences and to receive honors for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott. Parks died of natural causes at her home in Detroit at age ninety-two. After her death she became the first woman to lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. She is buried in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

Parks’s courage and determination were acknowledged by numerous awards, among them the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal (1970), the Martin Luther King, Jr., Award (1980), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1996), and the Congressional Gold Medal (1999), the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2000 the Rosa Parks Library and Museum opened in Montgomery to honor her life and legacy. While it would be misleading to call Parks the “mother of the civil rights movement,” her life exemplifies the importance of black women’s grassroots activism in the black freedom struggle. Male leaders like King stood in the spotlight, but female activists like Parks laid crucial groundwork for the civil rights movement, participated in many of its most important campaigns, and contributed to its ultimate success.

The Rosa L. Parks Papers are housed at the Walter P. Reuther Library’s Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her autobiography, with Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story (1992), provides a brief but captivating account of her life. The only scholarly biography is Douglas Brinkley’s meticulously researched and gracefully written Rosa Parks (2000). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 25 Oct. 2005). Interviews with Parks can be found in Howell Raines, ed., My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered (1977), and Barbara Summers, ed., I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America (1989).

Simon Wendt

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