Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913 – 2005) was an African American civil right’s activist and seamstress whom the U.S. Congress dubbed the “Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement”.
Parks is famous for her refusal on 1 December 1955, to obey bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. Her subsequent arrest and trial for this act of civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, one of the organisers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement. Her role in American history earned her an iconic status in American culture, and her actions have left an enduring legacy for civil rights movements around the world.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. Her ancestors included both Irish-Scottish lineage and also a great grandmother who was a slave. She attended local rural schools, and after the age of 11, the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery. However, she later had to opt out of school to look after her grandmother.
„She was selected to be one of the people to meet Nelson Mandela on his release from prison in 1994, in 1996 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton and in 1997 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest award of Congress.“
As a child, Rosa became aware of the segregation which was deeply embedded in Alabama. She experienced deep rooted racism and became conscious of the different opportunities faced by white and black children. She also recalls seeing a Klu Klux Klan march go past her house – where her father stood outside with a shotgun. Due to the Jim Crow laws, most black voters were effectively disenfranchised.
In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. He was active in the NAACP, and Rosa Parks became a supporter helping with fund-raising and other initiatives. She attended meetings defending the rights of black people and seeking to prevent injustice.
After a day at work at Montgomery Fair department store, Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus at around 6 p.m., Thursday, 1 December 1955, in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the “colored” section, which was near the middle of the bus and directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers. Initially, she had not noticed that the bus driver was the same man, James F. Blake, who had left her in the rain in 1943. As the bus travelled along its regular route, all of the white-only seats in the bus filled up. The bus reached the third stop in front of the Empire Theater, and several white passengers boarded.
In 1900, Montgomery had passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating passengers by race. Conductors were given the power to assign seats to accomplish that purpose; however, no passengers would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available. Over time and by custom, however, Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move whenever there were no white only seats left.
FSo, following standard practice, the bus driver Blake noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers and there were two or three men standing. Therefore, he moved the “colored” section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit.
When Parks refused to give up her seat, a police officer arrested her. Parks was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 segregation law of the Montgomery City code, even though she technically had not taken up a white-only seat — she had been in a colored section. E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr bailed Parks out of jail the evening of December 1.
After the boycott, Rosa Parks became an icon and leading spokesperson of the civil rights movement in the US. Immediately after the boycott, she lost her job in a department store. For many years she worked as a seamstress.
In 1965, she was hired by African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. She worked as his secretary until her retirement in 1988. Conyers remarked of Rosa Parks.
She was selected to be one of the people to meet Nelson Mandela on his release from prison in 1994, in 1996 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton and in 1997 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest award of Congress.
Rosa Parks resided in Detroit until she died at the age of ninety-two on October 24, 2005.
The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development
The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development was co-founded in February 1987 by Mrs. Rosa Parks and Ms. Elaine Eason Steele, in honor of Raymond Parks (1903 – 1977). It is the living legacy of two individuals who committed their lives to civil and human rights.
Raymond Parks married Rosa McCauley December 18, 1932. He was a barber from Wedowee in Randolph County, Alabama. He had little formal education but a thirst for knowledge and a no nonsense approach to life. He supported his wife’s “Quiet Strength” and encouraged youth to get a good education to support themselves, their families and to eliminate discrimination in this country.
Elaine Eason Steele, met Mrs. Rosa Parks at work in a sewing factory, in the early 1960′s while still a high school student. Following graduation she volunteered to work with Mrs. Parks and help in any meaningful way she could. She became a good friend, like the daughter she never had. Elaine also knew Mrs. Parks wanted to honor Mr. Parks and knew of her love and commitment to youth. In 1987, they began the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.
The era of legalized racial segregation caused Raymond’s and Rosa’s commitment to first class citizenship for people of color. Self taught with minimal formal education, Raymond was a skilled barber. Rosa, a domestic worker and seamstress, finished high school after her marriage to Raymond. They both encouraged others to register to vote, pool their financial resources, advocate for quality formal education and become involved in community development.
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was arrested December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give her seat to a white male passenger on a segregated bus upon the demands of the bus driver. Four days later, December 5, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began and lasted 381 days. Mrs. Parks’ courage catapulted her into world history where she is affectionately referenced as the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement.” The boycott also brought world prominence to a young Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.